|Charity Of, By and For the Rich: the Berggruen Philosophy Study Center|
Their philosophical conceit - that one simply cannot help the teeming masses without first giving precedence to oneself and to one's own class - is all too evident in Town and Country's latest annual list of the Top 50 Philanthropists.
Each plutocrat (or more likely, the designated PR flack) was asked to give a brief synopsis (their "Grand Plan") of his or her goals for humanity. Following is a sampling of the winning entries - with the usual gratuitous supplemental explanations in parentheses provided by your helpful Sardonickist:
Whitney Williams's Grand Plan - "To help the high-profile - Ben Affleck, Bill Gates, Hillary Clinton, etc. - put their money and influence to seriously good use." (The serious good use is centered in extremely poor parts of Africa, which are in dire need of some good old fashioned high-profile corporate
Emily Tisch Sussman's Grand Plan - "Reduce gun violence, among other things, as campaign director at DC-based think tank Center for American Progress." (Among the other things, presumably, is the election of the seriously high-profile Hillary Clinton, whose lobbyist-campaign adviser just happens to be the founder of the corporate-funded Center for American Progress. Emily's parents, donors to the Clintons, are part owners of the New York Giants football team. Daddy founded the Loews Corporation, and Hubby is a private consultant to the Pentagon... among other things.)
John Steinbaugh's Grand Plan - "Stop deaths from hemorrhage among soldiers on battlefields through RevMedx's invention of the life-saving syringe." (Why have a grand plan to actually stop war when your company-slash-charity can also be the lucky winner of many a Pentagon contract for many an endless war? You can't get blood from a stone, after all. You still need human bodies.)
Jessica Seinfeld's Grand Plan - "Break the cycle of family poverty through the cookbook author's nonprofit Good+ Foundation." (No government-funded food stamp increases or jobs programs or wage increases for hungry poor families are needed as long as you have a wealthy comedian's wife to share her tips and tricks. And just so you know, that cookbook she's selling to help poor moms feed their kids might be unoriginal, but it was not plagiarized. So shut up, all you haters and class enviers!)
Justin Rockefeller's Grand Plan - "Convince the wealthy not only to invest their money in a socially responsible manner, but to do it more effectively through the ImPact." (You can make a ton of money by
Bill Pulte's Grand Plan - "Rid Detroit of blight by tearing down houses and making room for safe communities." (Translation: buy up properties for pennies, evict tenants, tear down, gentrify, get rid of "black crime", re-sell to white people or rent back to evictees at a markup, ka-ching. Pulte is a private equity mogul, a/k/a Master of Creative Destruction. And wouldn't you know it, the brother of Mitt Romney (the founder of vulture fund Bain Capital) just happens to serve on this "charity's" board. Double ka-ching!)
Deval Patrick's Grand Plan - "Prove that you can make money and do good at the same time by starting a new division of Bain Capital that focuses on investment opportunities that benefit society by still turning a profit." (It's a small world, after all. Patrick, like Romney, is a former governor of Massachusetts; they must have met on one of their revolving door trips. Patrick also served on the board of subprime lender Ameriquest, which turned a profit by foreclosing on thousands of poor people's homes in Detroit and elsewhere.)
Kim Fortunato's Grand Plan - "Reduce childhood obesity and hunger through Campbell Soup's signature philanthropic program, Campbell's Healthy Communities." (One small serving of Campbell's Healthy Request soup contains more than half the daily recommended allowance of sodium. The company actually increased the salt in its products after an initial ballyhooed reduction depressed sales. Since the mega-charity, the American Heart Association. also added its healthy logo to the cans of salinated soup, both it and Campbell's were the subjects of a class action lawsuit, charging fraud.)
The Cucinelli Family's Grand Plan -"Prove that capitalism and humanism can co-exist through business and the Brunello and Federica Cucinelli Foundation..." (Never mind that capitalism is to humanism what cancer is to a body. In his native Umbria, Cucinelli, known as the King of Cashmere, reigns as a literal feudal overlord. In a real castle, no less, with real-live peasants toiling in the surrounding countryside to provide some co-existing ambience.)
Anida Kamadioli Costa's Grand Plan - "Ensure that an iconic brand puts its money where its mouth is on such issues as conservation through the Tiffany & Co. Foundation." (The issues apparently don't extend to Tiffany divesting from the part of its gem supply chain allegedly responsible for Middle Eastern massacres.)
Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg's Grand Plan - "To give away 99% of their Facebook stock, currently worth $45 billion, through numerous nonprofits like the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative." (As has been widely reported, this charitable endeavor is not only a tax dodge, it aims to supplant democratic programs, such as public education. The bulk of the excessive Facebook cash is parked in a Delaware LLC.)
Nicolas Berggruen's Grand Plan - "Create a space to shelter the world's elite thinkers in a peaceful yet intellectually fervid sanctuary for reflection and dialogue through the Berggruen Philosophy and Culture Center." (Even rich thought leaders need charity and safe spaces. Berggruen was once known as the "homeless billionaire" because he was reduced to living in his private jet after losing a third of his fortune in the Wall Street crash. But now he's opened his new lush California Zen paradise to such wealthy war-mongering luminaries as Tony Blair and Condi Rice, who can fervidly shelter in place for "Thing Long" bull sessions with their class peers.
It's one more example of charity literally beginning right in the home. Or, if not in an actual castle, at least in the second, fourth or eighth vacation home.
Now, this isn't to say that all 50 of the winning philanthropists showcased in Town & Country are as crass as the individuals and corporate persons I highlighted above. There still exist the usual rich people giving and raising money to study diseases which have personally afflicted them or their family members. There are the usual celebrities and their sincere pet causes. For example, Matt Damon modestly aims to provide clean water for the whole wide world, while Stephen Colbert is merely trying to humor regular people into donating supplies to public, not private, schools. There's no money or investment opportunity in it for them, other than the positive publicity and maybe a clever tax write-off of some sort.
So read more about the leisure class at your own leisure. You are guaranteed to be amazed and perhaps even inspired to add an updated chapter or two to Thorstein Veblen's landmark sociological study on the rich. Stung by accusations that they're a bunch of wealth-hoarding greedsters, the plutocrats have joined forces to create their own "Idle No More" movement. They're very busy conspicuously helping one another to aspire to help others to lift themselves up by their own bootstraps. It's a hard knock life for sure... for the rich.
Pop quiz questions: What, if any, difference is there between conspicuous consumption and conspicuous giving?
Is it uncharitable to ask whether we can actually afford rich people?