I was included today on a conference call with a major bank. They are doing a national survey of high net worth individuals (HNWIs) on philanthropy. The blue ribbon panel (on which I am an improbable member) will guide the survey and help the bank position itself as a "thought leader in philanthropy." The conversation was extremely professional, well-informed, and even idealistic. All concerned had a commitment to giving and society. Interesting, all in all. And, probably on balance it will be a big contribution to the field.
Patronage of philanthropy: Who funds "thought leaders"? Is there a space from which the conversation can be convened for all comers from the Dumpster out behind a mega-bank? Or from the public square, where the voices of high net worth citizens - fine prospects for financial services, for philanthropy, and for legal services, as well as for luxury goods, and donations to lobbyists and political candidates - speak for themselves, one to another, and many to many, among the undeserving poor, and other losers, rather than having themselves debriefed by surveyors on a phone bank? The insights, with a blue ribbon commission funded by a bank, flow to the central power, whose power and prestige are then elevated, and that is a good thing, I guess. Knowledge/Power flows to the center and is then disseminated, as the bank's study will be, benefiting all, with the bank the well positioned middle term.
What is missing is the raucous buzz of conversations forming on the margins, finding their own center unaided, and moving knowledge and power away from the centralized well-funded hubs with their avid interest in the High Net Worth Individuals (HNWIs). There are people like me in these big financial hubs, with training in both finance and the liberal arts, or in religion, who want to ask you (if and only if you are rich), "What is the meaning of life - in general, and yours in particular? And, where does giving fit? And would you like to talk now that we have clarified your values, to our charitable trust department, our dynasty trust department, our investment unit, our financial planning department, our estate planning department, our foundation experts, our donor advised fund unit, our legal unit, our IPO Unit?" I do that kind of thing on company time, and I am proud of it. How better for an English major down on his luck to make an honest buck off being a facilitator of wealthy people and their values, however banal?
But out here in the street, by the Dumpster, after work, hanging out with my questionable friends, sharing a bottle of Thunderbird, I am doing the real deal, for which no company would pay me, to put it positively, or mildly. What we do for love of our fellow human beings, for love of our country, we do in the shadows, pro bono publico. "Truth is a bitch who must to kennel," so said King Lear's Fool, or words to that effect. If you see someone coming calling my name, and he or she looks like they work for a bank or whatever, tell them I am not here. I am on the lam, blogging as a citizen when no one any longer is a citizen, except insofar as they are being stroked and pumped for money or votes, or the values that can be used to get them to put their money to work through a financial center for the benefit of all.
They say that Diogenes was kicked out of his home town for debasing the currency. It is a scandal: Standing naked on the street, giving away gold coins to rich people when counterfeit passes current; and then getting busted for making a mockery of social capital markets, philanthropy, thought leadership, values-based planning, the whole blessed game.
I will file this post under "the raw and the cooked." Free range philosophers are still the best, if taken with a grain of salt. Hey all you HNWIs! Stop awhile! Don't you cross the street to avoid us! Come on, Mister! Madame! Come! Get naked like us, and don't hog that bottle. We are all just humans here. We are all going to die and turn into the same stinking goo. Tell us all about what matters most to you, Mr and Mrs Rich Person. We Ultra Low Net Worth Individuals (UHNWIs) are soooo interested in the world you want. "No pet will die without a home"? "A World Class Opera House in Dallas"? How touching! By the way, how much cash you got in that bank over there? I hope this is not too personal, but now that we are friends, and I am practically your Trusted Advisor, could you float me a loan? I am finding myself a bit short at the end of the month.