Super-Rich Are Appalling!

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dick smith
Dick Smith

Has the GFC made rich people mean and stingy? So says Dick Smith…Is his argument reasonable? What do you think: Should the rich give more money because there are people living in extreme poverty?

Here is what Dick Smith had to say:

What’s disgusting is there are some incredibly wealthy people around, people who are billionaires, people who are worth well over a hundred million dollars – for some reason they don’t give anything. The press release I sent out mentions how our wealthy are appalling and greedy. And that’s pretty right.

Because rich people in America donate more money than the Australian wealthy (according to Dick Smith), should rich Australians give more? Read the article from the Sydney Morning Herald here.

I think perhaps we should first deconstruct the use of the some of these words and expressions used: “incredibly wealthy people”, “people who are worth well over a hundred million dollars”, “wealthy”. What do these expressions mean for you? How do we give value to people in our community?

It is true that the people he is talking about have a lot of money. I consider that I posses a great treasure which makes me ‘rich’, but I can tell you I don’t have anywhere near millions. I don’t measure my value, my worth, by how much money I have. Neither do I judge another in the same way. Our treasure should not be defined by how much money we have. If we are calling someone worth well over a hundred million dollars, should we then consider someone with no money worthless?

Dick Smith argued also: “that good things come to those who donate. If they were giving their money away, it’s amazing what happens with karma. The right things would happen for them.” He said most of his wealthy mates were “miserable” and that for the past 15 years he had given away “well more than 20 per cent” of his own income.

So what should be the motivation of these rich people to give more money? Karma? To get good things because they give a lot of money? To avoid being miserable?

I would think none of those reasons are of themselves ‘charitable’. Those reasons are all self-interested, to gain what the giver might get from donating money. True philanthropy is about serving a love for humanity, not tax-relief. True charity is about serving the needs of the other above ourselves, not gaining kudos or happiness. Certainly giving has its own rewards which should be enjoyed, but these should not be the reason people give money.

The Reverend Bill Crews, who runs Sydney’s Exodus Foundation, which helps the poor and needy, said a $1 million donation would give 80 kids a new life. He said: “For them the whole world would change. What a lot of these wealthy people don’t see is that in giving you do change the world.” Bill Crews said that the GFC had reduced overall donations to charities.

While both Dick Smith and Bill Crews might have a point, we should neither confuse the true meaning of charity. Charity is a verb, not a noun. Charity is an action, not an organisation. Charity should definitely not be a club with which to manipulate rich people into giving more money. How charitable is that?!


Charity Doesn’t Solve Anything

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Mexican businessman Carlos Slim Helú.
Carlos Slim Helu

Can we criticise Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim (the Mexican billionaire listed by Forbes as the world’s richest man) for his perspective on what makes change happen:

The only way to fight poverty is with employment. Trillions of dollars have been given to charity in the last 50 years, and they don’t solve anything. … To give 50 percent, 40 percent, that does nothing. There is a saying that we should leave a better country to our children. But it’s more important to leave better children to our country.

His comment was in relation to the “Giving Pledge” promoted by Bill and Melinda Gates (that those with loads of money should give away half). Carlos has given a considerable amount already to the Gates Foundation. This was reported in the Wall Street Journal after Carlos’ comments in Sydney recently, and commented as a post on the blog Good by Patrick James.

I don’t think it is a simple as saying he is right or wrong, or that rich people should give more because they have more to give. Ethically, can we determine how someone should use their discretionary money any more than we should with each of our time (the one resource we all have in common).

Personally, I disagree with the proposition. We have confused the word ‘charity’ which is supposed to be a verb meaning to help others with its more contemporary use as a noun defining an organisational status. “A charity” doesn’t solve anything. People do. And how do people do this? Through charity. By being charitable, by showing love to others less fortunate than themselves. This is the only way to change the world.

Money is just a means to an end.

What is charity?

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When I mention what I am doing through the 10 City Bridge Run to many people, often the response is “are you doing that for charity?”

We have corrupted and confused the meaning of the word charity by have too much emphasis toward a consumer focus. We have confused the word (verb) charity for the description (noun) of ‘a charity’. But does this really matter?

I think it does. We have made ‘doing good’ a commodity. Philanthropy has become for many a means of finding reward and status. Brand and agency now define how we understand value and trust. I think that is all wrong.

Are these things right?

  • ‘Charities’ ambushing people on the street and signing them up onto monthly direct debit forms to their credit cards.
  • Corporate events seeking sponsorship to the right ‘charity’ because of the reputation gained.
  • Treating those who give larger sums of money with extra-special care because of their ‘philanthropy’.

What happened to the neighbourly culture of helping out your mate in Australia? The proverbial cup of sugar when it was asked. Helping out when someone is in need.

Where I live in Kings Cross there are many people who stop and ask you for ‘change’. Is the right thing just to give them what they ask- a few bucks- or is it more appropriate to ask how we can help them? All too often the stereotype (and often the reality) is that these people will just go and drink the money away, or worse score and shoot up. Surely if we really cared we would look to their needs beyond just throwing them a couple of coins so they were off our conscience.

I believe we need to be bridges to help those in need. We can’t meet everyones need, and neither will we want to all of the time. We have our own concerns to look to as well.

10 City Bridge Run presents a new approach to philanthropy. Philanthropy doesn’t mean ‘not-for-profit’. It means doing good in the interest of others.

In the 10 City Bridge Run sponsorship received supports the production of a book, “Above the Line” using a social enterprise business model. Proceeds enable the 10 City Bridge Run to occur and to meet the Six Outcomes. Sponsorship is received by Social Alchemy, a social business as defined by Nobel Peace Prize Recipient Muhammad Yunus. Please join us on the journey and become a sponsor.

This is a participative and altruistic initiative. It is charity in action.