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.
So how do we recirculate the so-called "dirty money"? Bury it in a hole? Why not build cathedrals, hospitals, museums, and churches right here in the US? Don't we want the dollars repatriated, preferably right back to the inner city? You can call it dirty money, but as that Roman Emperor said about the toilet tax, "Pecunia non olet." Money has no smell.
I mean, let's say Al Capone had decided to create Capone School of Business at Harvard, would that have been all bad if they could have hired Jack Kemp or some other public servant and thought leader to head it up? The good done by the School might at least partially offset the blood shed and the legs broken and the officials corrupted in making the money. Laundering drug money sounds bad, but how much worse would be to have unlaundered money piling up everywhere by the trillions, like horse dung in the streets back in the 19th century. You can't just cart currency around in a suitcase when you want to exercise your free speech by contributing to a local or national political candidate. You can't fly Obama or Hillary to Colombia, toss them in the money pit, and let them stuff as much cash as they can in their underwear. We are a civilized people. We deal in checks, favors traded, honors, Presidential medals and pardons, charitable gifts, political influence. Yes, in an ideal world there would be no Vice and no Folly, but in the real world our job is to make the best possible use of it and to maximize our blended total return, a fine blend of Vice, Folly, Profit, Political Return on Investment, and Philanthropy. If you mess all that up you would bring down the country. Personally, I hope the Homeland Security or the CIA or Blackwater or someone else we can trust is protecting these vital financial arteries, connecting covert and overt, lest the entire system get the equivalent of a massive heart attack, congestive heart failure. Keep the money flowing, like blood from the hands to the belly to the head and to the heart. To be disgusted by drug money is like the head being ashamed of the digestive tract or the (pardon me) rectum. Everything has to circulate properly; otherwise the whole body would just explode and there would be crap everywhere. It is just the same with the Body Politic.
The real issue here is that ordinary people don't want to know the truth. They can't handle the truth. There is nothing bad going on, all things considered from a high level perspective, but the mushrooms have to be kept in the dark down in the basement for their own good. That is why we have news.
Miss Goody Two Shoes, Catherine Austin Fitts, is making the naive error of telling mushrooms more than mushrooms need or want to know. The bottom line is that everything is ok, except for Terrorism and that can be handled through Martial Law, if need be. Now, go back to your cubicles. Nothing is happening here folks. Everything is under control.
If it had been me, instead of Little Miss Sore-Loser Fitts, I would have stayed up there in the Great American Control room in DC, with the 24/7 Citizen Surveillance, cashing my big paycheck, bossing my 7,000 subordinates, and trading for my own account on all that inside information I got through legally tapping all the Wall Street phones and emails. I would have been loyal to those who were good enough to keep my bread buttered. I would be right in the middle of this subprime mortage mess, repossessing the houses of poor dumb black people and selling them to my smart rich white friends. There have to be a thousand ways to profit as an insider when you work in secret with your pals in other departments, or when you raise enough money for candidates. I know which end is up. I am no Fool. I would have kept my own damn mouth shut like the rest of the white collar crooks and worn one of them Flag things in my lapel, cuz I would have had a suit then, instead of being stark naked like I am now. I just wish I had a Great Country I could sell to the highest bidder, one neighborhood at a time. The Chinese are going to own us anyway. The seas are dying. The bees have flown off God knows where. The handwriting is on the wall. We might as well cash out now and get the money in a Swiss Vault, before it all hits the fan. How do I get mine out this, before the panic sets in?
Philanthropy may be corrupt, ok, but I can tell you this, I can't scrounge $3.75 for a small Latte as a "Morals Tutor to America's Wealthiest Families." I say I work pro bono publico, but the fact is I can't charge for this. Rich people flee me. They don't even drive into my neighborhood except to buy drugs. I am thinking of going back to prostitution. At least as a Dungeon Master to the Stars, I got paid for beating these people. Whatever it takes. The secret of success in our business is keeping the rich client happy. Who are we to judge? Wasn't it Will Rogers who said, "I never met a rich man I didn't like?"