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January 25, 2008


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robert guinto

Bill Gates challenge shows a willingness to be a leader and set ways to measure outcomes.

Others should step forward.


It is amazing how quickly Hudson has scheduled a rebuttal.


Oh, I thought they were inviting Gates to debate the issue with them. Do they even have anyone on the panel to fairly represent Gates' view? Even if they did I suppose it would be a single person against the rest of the panel. Isn't that close the the dynamic you experienced recently?


Actually, for me it was heaven. Yes, the room was conservative and given to making ideological points like, "There is no public good." But they were also intelligent, educated, engaged and hungry for ideas. They were open to debate and enjoyed it. They would laugh to themselves when their views took a pounding. In my world of work almost everyone is conservative, but few are intellectually curious. Overall, I think Bill Schambra is doing wonderful things in creating a transpartisan, intellectually serious, conversation about philanthropy and democracy. His panels have had Ruesga, me, Pablo Eisenberg, Rick Cohen, and others who might otherwise be marginalized liberal voices. He gives us the microphone and encourages us to be outspoken. He thrives on debate. The Gates thing almost looks like a command performance, a rapid response team, since Gates is so influential and his critique of capitalism is bound to draw attention. Gates actually had the temerity to remind people at Davos that Adam Smith wrote another good book, on The Moral Sentiments. The Hidden Hand had a Warm Heart. Gates seems to be saying that business can't do it without government assistance. He also blows up the whole idea of economics as the measure of success. GDP could be flat, he says, and every life saved is still precious. That kind of thinking goes to the very heart of the matter. If you start thinking like that you are leaving the econ behind as your measure and reverting to moral sentiments and humane or liberal traditions.

At bottom, what must be prevented at all costs is asking whether the rich have an obligation to the poor. Hidden hand says, "Be selfish as hell and God will bring good out of evil for you, so go be a selfish bastard with God's blessing." Gates questioning that.

O Lucky Man

"There is no public good."

Did a low rumble of approval follow statements like that? Hear hear's? A stony silence for the self-evident?

How do "these people" act?


My response was, "Yes, its an alibi." That hung in the air and it was like the moment in a Western when one guys says, "Draw." Then the crowd murmured, "Say more." I can't recall what I said, but the atmosphere heated up and the faces got more engaged. The person who said there is no public good, William Dennis, came up afterwards and shook my hand vigorously. I had known him on Lenore Ealy's list serve, but had never met him. So the net net of that exchange was positive. Later, reading along in Amy Kass's book, Giving Well, Doing Good, I came upon an essay from the 1980's by Irving Kristol, the godfather it seems of neoconservatism, who was present at the Hudson talk. His essay was a bravura polemic delivered at the then liberal and probably complacent Council on Foundations. Kristol said flatly and without any supporting argument that the public good does not exist, there is no third sector, there are only two sectors, one governmental and one private. Philanthropy is private money for public good. No scratch that, it is private money for private good. So, Dennis was echoing a deflationary position that may have become doctrinal, one that began with a polemic years ago. Irving Kristol's was a fascinating face to watch. Whenever I was able to score a point against the views of the neocons he smiled and rocked around in his chair as if at a good prize fight. He seemed pleased that there was some real heat in the room. "Ideas matter" is a conservative slogan, at the top. Fox News may not be a good example, or Limbaugh, or the Presidential Press Corps, but in that room, that afternoon, ideas did matter. Bill Schambra had set it up to produce that kind of volatile mixture. A telling gesture: the evening before the panel, as I left the dinner, I shook his hand. But before he shook mine, he cocked a fist, and glared and gestured like a fighter. It took me aback a little, but the spirit of it was, "Bring your best game." Given that philanthropy conversations tend to be decorous and dull, it is fine to have a place where ideas matter, and you are allowed to go flat out.

I do wish Bill would blog or come up with a way to involve others, from the net, in the ferment he is stirring up.

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