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Nathan SchneiderJune 12, 2017

There was a time when I felt warmly toward the Frick Collection. I was a teenager when I first visited the mansion-turned-art-museum on New York’s Upper East Side. Around every corner was a painting that I had seen before in school or books—Hans Holbein the Younger’s 16th-century portraits of Thomas More and Thomas Cromwell, El Greco’s St. Jerome, the Vermeers. I did not know much about the paintings, or what they had to do with each other, except that they were all so important. And there they were, all together in this benefactor’s home, arranged (except for the gift shop and ticket desk) as if he still lived there. What a guy.

Last time I visited, I experienced the place quite differently. I had spent some of the intervening years reporting on social movements for a living, witnessing the violence and other forms of repression frequently wielded against those who take stands for their own dignity—as workers, as students, as migrants, as neighbors. I had learned that the history of my subject included Henry Clay Frick. During much his life, the public imagination associated his name not with famous art but with the breaking of the Homestead Steel Strike in Pennsylvania in 1892, a deadly operation that involved the use of Pinkerton mercenaries and the state militia. Mr. Frick spent most of his life organizing the production and sale of steel and other industrial products. Fine art was, in comparison, a hobby. Yet now, nearly a century after his death, certain masterworks can be viewed only by paying a visit to his home, frozen in time, where they are indefinitely imprisoned.

Frick-like behavior is such a familiar feature of cultural and economic practice in the United States that we rarely pause to question it. Mr. Frick was not alone. His contemporaries, like Andrew Carnegie, J. P. Morgan and Leland Stanford, had philanthropic hobbies of their own, in some cases to greater effect. Each found ways of wiping away spotty business reputations with unrelated beneficence, supplanting the public ambivalence or notoriety they had accumulated in life with enduring gratitude in death. Like feudal lords endowing monasteries, they bought themselves a measure of salvation in the afterlife—and we continue to let them do it.

We like to think that the selling of indulgences was an error of the past, yet the practice has passed into secular forms, and there are few Martin Luthers complaining of it.

We like to think that the selling of indulgences was an error of the past, yet the practice has passed into secular forms, and there are few Martin Luthers complaining of it. What goes by the name of philanthropy—literally, the love of people—and what the tax code regards as giving can rival the cynicism of the feudal indulgence business.

Bill Gates
Bill Gates

Microsoft Windows remains the world’s most widely used desktop computer operating system, but its chief salesman, Bill Gates, is now best known in relation to matters like health care, combatting disease in Africa and school reform. There is no question that Mr. Gates has proved his skill in turning buggy, insecure software into a global near-monopoly. Less clear is the meritocratic rationale for why this man’s foundation should rival the power of the World Health Organization, which is at least partly accountable to elected governments. One might also ask why a private-school-educated college dropout skilled at selling software holds singular influence over the future of the U.S. public school system—which his foundation consistently steers in the direction of Microsoft products. Yet long after anyone remembers the misfortune of running Windows Vista, Mr. Gates can expect enduring praise for pouring money into humanitarian pursuits. Just as I took Frick’s collection for granted as a teenager, we may even forget that there were choices to be made about public health and public education, and that Mr. Gates had an outsized role in making them. When most of us donate from our small excess, we express a concern and entrust the money to those with expertise; when Gates donates, he sets the agenda.

Now a new generation may out-Gates Mr. Gates. In December 2015, Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive officer of Facebook, announced plans to transfer nearly all his Facebook stock to a vehicle for unrelated activities. He chose to do this through a limited liability company rather than a foundation, forgoing even the tax code’s spacious definition of philanthropy. The intended targets for this wealth, as for the Gates fortune, are health and public education, although, like the Gateses, they have limited direct experience in either field. (Mr. Zuckerberg’s wife, Priscilla Chan, at least, received a medical degree in 2012; both attended public high schools.) Mr. Zuckerberg has demonstrated expertise in turning surveillance of people’s interpersonal activities into a profitable revenue stream through micro-targeted advertising. But there is as yet little reason he and his wife should be entrusted with the sway over our systems of health and public education that they are in the process of claiming. If we are to go on tolerating the self-canonization and attempted do-gooding of wealthy donors, we should expect them to actually be engaged in donating—not in the buying of indulgences, not in a vast privatization scheme to replace what could be public decision-making. This is advocacy; advocacy is fine, but we should call it what it is. If philanthropy means love of others, it must prove itself by entrusting the material of that love to the intended recipients. To believe in the dignity of other human beings is to honor their capacity to choose.

If philanthropy means love of others, it must prove itself by entrusting the material of that love to the intended recipients.

Philanthropy, that is, should be regarded as a subdomain of democracy, not an exception to it. We live in a time when economic stagnation and an authoritarian mood have put political democracy on the run around the world. Yet we also have more ways of hearing each other’s voices and making decisions together than ever before. Philanthropy could be a means for diverse, creative, collaborative acts of democracy—just what we need to regain the capacity to trust ourselves again, to remember the essential dignity that is our birthright. But only if it is real philanthropy. Giving should mean really giving, or giving back.

Natural Law and the Tax Code

The latest edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church contains, among its many now-peculiar-sounding phrases, a doctrine called the “universal destination of goods.” Says the catechism: “In the beginning God entrusted the earth and its resources to the common stewardship of mankind to take care of them, master them by labor, and enjoy their fruits. The goods of creation are destined for the whole human race.” To the eye of God, as among the earliest Christians in Acts, all things are common to all people. Nothing is mine or yours, but it is ours because we are part of the same divine communism.

There is, of course, a very big but.

The catechism goes on, “However, the earth is divided up among men to assure the security of their lives, endangered by poverty and threatened by violence.” Our flawed and fallen nature makes God’s communism impracticable. Therefore “the appropriation of property is legitimate for guaranteeing the freedom and dignity of persons and for helping each of them to meet his basic needs and the needs of those in his charge.”

So, there is a pass for possessions. Property of some kind is needed and useful. It can even be good, since it can be a means of serving others. The ample theory and practice of Catholic capitalism, from the Medicis to Domino’s Pizza, depends on this exception to the underlying, communist rule. But then there’s another but; the exception goes only so far.

“The ownership of any property makes its holder a steward of Providence,” says the catechism. Property is not fully ours; it must be stewarded, and taken care of, and shared. “The universal destination of goods remains primordial,” the catechism insists. Thomas Aquinas put the matter this way in the Summa Theologica: “Man ought to possess external things, not as his own, but as common, so that, to wit, he is ready to communicate them to others in their need.” We hold property, yes, but we should hold it as if it is not completely ours. We should dispense with it that way, too.

The tax code has a way of confounding useful distinctions, including among kinds of giving. U.S. law may give us the impression, for instance, that any contribution to a 501(c)(3) or similarly tax-exempt organization equals a gift. But many such gifts are simply acts of either obligation, preference or reciprocity—like tithing at one’s church, or supporting organizations that promote one’s social opinions, or underwriting a public radio station to which one listens. That is a normal part of being a good community member, and it’s praiseworthy, but it is not really giving. It is more a matter of responsibility than philanthropy. Actual philanthropy, the love of people, the stewarding of Providence—these expect a fuller kind of gift.

Such gifts can come in different forms. They might be in the form of sacrifice—giving what it seems one cannot afford, expecting no worldly reward. They might alternatively be a matter of forfeiting excess—the wealth beyond one’s own needs, which the world’s imperfect property arrangements have delivered into one’s hands. In either case the gift, once given, is no longer one’s own. It never really was.

Pope Francis has made a point of challenging the common habit of mind in contemporary philanthropy that second-guesses the person in need, that presumes to know better. Will the food-stamp recipient spend it on junk food? Will that man on the street use your dollar for drugs or alcohol or a doomed lottery ticket? Francis denies us these questions, together with their presumptions. He reminded an interviewer just before Lent this year that, for the homeless man, maybe “a glass of wine is his only happiness in life!”

Democracy can be a tool, or a family of tools, for achieving the humility that wealth can otherwise lift beyond reach.

Giving to those who ask, said Francis, “is always right.” Before trying to instruct the asker, the giver should listen and learn. “In the shoes of the other,” the pope added, “we learn to have a great capacity for understanding, for getting to know difficult situations.”

Catholic Relief Services has adopted a framework known as “integral human development” to guide its work of giving around the world, drawing on statements from Pope Paul VI and St. John Paul II. It is an attempt to give in a way that presumes the dignity and autonomy of the recipient, that seeks conditions under which people can become more fully themselves through choices and relationships. It is also an attempt to back away from the presumption that a philanthropist is typically entitled to: the presumption of knowing what other people need better than the people in need do.

Another framework for dispatching such presumptions is democracy. Democracy can be a tool, or a family of tools, for achieving the humility that wealth can otherwise lift beyond reach. We tend to think of democracy as the purview of government, but it can also be a means of real giving. It can be a vehicle of Providence.

Participatory budgets

Mr. Zuckerberg, in a lengthy manifesto he published last February on “Building Global Community,” turned to a sort of democracy out of necessity. He admitted that Facebook’s employees, whether in Silicon Valley or satellite offices around the world, cannot fully predict the cultural sensitivities and local anxieties of its nearly two billion users. Combined with artificial intelligence, the platform would be relying on a kind of “community governance,” he wrote, and said that users should expect to see experiments in “how collective decision-making might work at scale.”

The kind of governance Mr. Zuckerberg describes strikes me more like disguised focus groups than a truly accountable democracy; the company’s structure would remain chiefly accountable to profit-seeking investors. But his nod to collective, digital decision-making is instructive. Democracy often gets blamed for the bureaucratic outgrowths of government, so we forget its efficiencies; spreading decision-making processes widely across a large and diverse society is, in principle, a far better way to meet people’s needs than trying to anticipate them through central planning. To the degree that markets work, this is why. But the trick is choosing the right processes for the right situations.

We are living through what could be a renaissance in techniques for doing democracy—and, potentially, for doing philanthropy.

Mr. Zuckerberg comes by his techno-utopianist enthusiasm for the challenge honestly. Alongside the present authoritarian revival in global politics, we are living through what could be a renaissance in techniques for doing democracy—and, potentially, for doing philanthropy. There has never been less reason for tolerating feudal, unaccountable pretenders to generosity.

Mark Zuckerberg
Mark Zuckerberg

Private markets have generated a proliferation of decision-making software—from tools designed for running a private company’s board elections to project management platforms for teams scattered around the world. Some tools require more tech-savvy users than others, and they rely on varied means of encryption and authentication. Old-fashioned elections can be organized more cheaply and securely than ever.

But some of the most important experiments enable new forms of participation altogether. Liquid democracy, for instance, is a system used by some of the new internet-based political parties spreading across Europe and South America. One of the leading implementations, DemocracyOS, comes from Argentina; there, the candidates for a political party agreed to vote however the users of the DemocracyOS platform directed them.

It is a system of cascading proxies, a blend between direct democracy and deference to expertise. Rather than electing a representative to make every decision on my behalf for a fixed period of time, under liquid democracy I can decide on every proposal for myself. But in most cases I will have neither the time nor knowledge to do so. I can therefore designate a proxy to vote on health-related matters, and another to vote on education. Maybe those proxies choose other proxies in turn. I can change my proxy at any time or opt to vote for myself. I choose my own level of involvement and step back responsibly.

Loomio, developed by a worker-owned cooperative in New Zealand, has become a popular platform for discussion and decision-making for online groups. An allied project, Cobudget, enables groups to pool donations and allocate them collaboratively. More examples are emerging from the “blockchain” technology that underlies the Bitcoin digital currency—enabling secure, transparent governance without need for a certifying authority. But not all of these democratic developments depend on boutique software; to reach people most in need, they must not. Participatory budgeting, for instance, is a technique developed in Porto Alegre, Brazil, that has spread to U.S. cities like Chicago and New York. There, largely through in-person meetings, neighborhood residents work together to determine how funds should be spent in their communities.

Democratic tactics such as these might be aids in a kind of philanthropy that gives more than it directs, that entrusts gifts more fully to recipients. But they are just tactics. What matters most is how they are deployed. I conclude with three possible strategies for a more democratic philanthropy.

Giving directly

Maybe the most obvious thing to do when wealth accumulates excessively should be to return it, recycling it to those from whom it came. The John Lewis Partnership, for instance, is a large retail chain in Britain. When one of the founder’s sons took over, starting in 1929, he began transferring ownership of the company into a trust, which would become owned jointly by its employees. This was not an outright gift; the employees gradually paid the family back. But the choice ensured that, from there on out, the company’s profits would go toward the many who produced them, not just the founding family or outside investors. It prevented further excess accumulation.

Mark Zuckerberg might consider doing something similar. Rather than transferring his Facebook stock into his own pet projects, he could put it in a trust owned and governed by Facebook users—say, through some of those “community governance” mechanisms he wrote about. Then users could benefit from and help to steward the valuable, personal data they post and share. Mr. Zuckerberg himself might find his own skills put to better use that way. Instead of seeking to transform fields in which he has little expertise, he could help guide the user community to being effective stewards of the company he did so much to build.

Instead of seeking to transform fields in which he has little expertise, Mr. Zuckerberg could help guide the user community to being effective stewards of the company he did so much to build.

A vast number of businesses face impending transition as their Baby Boomer owners depart without succession plans. Some are large factories, others are small stores and offices. It is a historic opportunity to share that wealth, through forms of cooperative ownership, with the very workers and customers who make those businesses work. This is a kind of philanthropy that honors the human beings in an enterprise, the people who might otherwise take a back seat to the imperative of profits.

Cooperative conversion, however, is not an option for many who are in a position to give. A second kind of philanthropy more closely resembles the forms we are used to: delivering a set of resources to a community or cause.

When donors discern the need to direct funds toward some particular purpose, they can at least step aside after the gift has been made. Conventionally, philanthropic foundations remain, after the original donor’s death, under the control of family members or the donor’s stringent directives. Givers seem unable to allow themselves to fully give. We should expect better; even when the donor frames an original purpose, a more appropriate set of stakeholders can steer the gift afterward.

For instance, if a donor wants to set up a foundation for education in a given city, it could ensure that a significant portion of the decision-making process includes ordinary students and parents there. Rather than imposing elections, the foundation could assign rotating oversight positions through random sortition, just as juries are chosen. Or it could hold open meetings for a participatory budgeting process. If the recipients of the gift are more widespread, such as patients with a rare disease, online tools like liquid democracy or Cobudget may be more appropriate. One way or another, in order for a gift to be regarded as truly a gift, it should be given in a way that is accountable to its recipients, rather than as an imposition on them.

In order for a gift to be regarded as truly a gift, it should be given in a way that is accountable to its recipients, rather than as an imposition on them.

A third strategy for democratic philanthropy relinquishes donor control even further, and it is already starting to become popular: direct cash transfers. Just give people money and trust them to decide how best to use it.

GiveDirectly, a Silicon Valley darling, is a charity that uses mobile payment technology to deliver money into the accounts of poor people in Kenya and Uganda. The Taiwanese Buddhist charity Tzu Chi has also made lower-tech cash transfers integral to its disaster relief programs. This kind of giving includes no stipulation about how people use the money, but evidence appears to support positive outcomes; when people receive money with no strings attached, they tend to use it well. GiveDirectly has also become involved in research around universal basic income—a system by which every person (or adult) in a society would receive a livable income just for being alive. Advocates believe that, rather than disincentivizing work, a basic income would free people to make more valuable contributions to society than dead-end jobs by freeing time for education, family life and innovation. Some even contend that as more jobs become automated by technology, basic income could turn into a necessity.

Something like a basic income would require more resources than philanthropy is likely to provide (even though eight men now hold as much wealth as half the planetary population); full implementation needs public policy. But some philanthropistsincluding Facebook’s co-founder, Chris Hughes, now co-chair of the Economic Security Project—are putting the idea in motion by funding local experiments in cash distributions that could later lead to policy shifts. It is hard to imagine a way of giving more in tune with the universal destination of goods than this—recycling wealth among as many people as possible, with no stipulations whatsoever about how they use it.

These proposals, I realize, run the risk of inhibiting the philanthropic supply. If philanthropy cannot be a means of buying glory and immortality, one might ask, who would do it? Useful things have been done in the world by well-meaning but self-serving philanthropy. Are we ready to lose that by raising expectations?

Michael Edwards, a former Ford Foundation grantmaker, contends that the current system is not worth protecting. “Philanthropy is supposed to be private funding for the public good,” he has written, “but increasingly it’s become a playground for private interests.” However much the Zuckerbergs and the Gateses of the world succeed in their mighty ambitions, their chief achievement will be the cultivation of dependence on people like them.

“The more you try to control social change,” Mr. Edwards warns, “the less you succeed.”

Providence might do better.

Correction, June 13: This article originally misstated where Mark Zuckerberg and his wife attended high school.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Jim MacGregor
6 years 8 months ago

How did this well reasoned and articulated article with no visceral ad hominem attacks ever make its way into the pages of America?

After reading through the (almost laborious but pointedly written) description of the many aspects of the problem, I was most pleasantly surprised to find that the author suggested some approaches that could be tried to approach.

What a refreshing article!

Thank you Dr. Schneider.

John Walton
6 years 8 months ago

Well done Mr. Schneider.

1:Corinthians:13 -- "all you need to know". Sometimes you give an institution a gift and wind up smacking your head like Homer Simpson saying "dooohh..." , but you give without any conditions.

Can we introduce Mr. and Mrs. Zuckerberg to the "Red Cloud Indian Mission"?

Joseph J Dunn
6 years 8 months ago

The federal government in 2015 spent $2.9 trillion, or 77 percent of its total $3.8 trillion on non-military, non-interest, programs—democratically selected and supported philanthropic programs. Private philanthropy in America in 2015—the kind that Schneider believes needs improvement—totalled $373 billion. If this entire amount were directed by the federal government (presumably in some democratic way), it could fund a commensurate 13 percent increase in federal funding of these federal government philanthropic programs. That transfer would of course also strip all donations from churches or church-related organizations, private schools and universities, homeless shelters, the YMCA, ACLU, United Way, Catholic Charities, the American Red Cross, food banks, art museums, etc. They and local non-profits need no longer look to foundations and private donors. All these organizations would simply send their appeal to their Congressional representative, or to some federal administrator. Whether that would be administered by our current elected and appointed government officials, or through some form of liquid democracy, is this really what we want? Recall also that one of the major advantages of private philanthropy without government interference is its history of addressing social justice issues long before they gained the wide public (or voter) support needed to attract government financial support. The earliest efforts toward abolition, women’s suffrage, professional medical education, nuclear disarmament, and many of the early efforts in support of universal public education were funded by philanthropists, often in the face of indifference from elected public officials. These innovations are at the heart of private philanthropy, and promote the common good. When we abandon private philanthropy, we surrender that initiative. Democracy has aways had its defects, and private philanthropy is often a remedy.

Stuart Meisenzahl
6 years 8 months ago

Once again Mr Schneider seems to think he knows best how to spend "other people's money". Once again his position is a utopian call to "community ownership" of all the big guys "ill gotten gains ". At least he admits its communism , but with a small "C" .....but to sweeten the taste he makes the argument that it is really "Catholic communism".
Somehow I think Saint John Paul 11 might take exception to where his thinking must inevitably (and historically) lead. The Gospel of sharing does not dictate how goods and services should be shared, ...just that they should be shared. Nor do the Gospels support Mr. Schneider's sense of being slighted because a larger group of people does not vote on how other people's money should be shared in response to the Gospel.

As a pure economic matter, Mr Schneider simply ignores the vast concurrent benefits that flowed from the founding and operation of Gates and Zuckerberg enterprises. In terms of employment opportunities consider also that the creation of "tools" such as computers and communications built thousands of other businesses which have employed even more people. These and similar enterprises were vast log fold multipliers of opportunity for others that swamp the losses caused by obsoleted businesses- the creative /destruction of Capitalism. These and other companies like Apple have also democratized education by making it available on line.
These developments have enabled the people in the United States who are considered "poor" today to possess what would have been considered true luxuries just some 40 or 50 years ago. Consider that access to hand held communication devices with computer capabilities is considered essential to life as we live it.

Now if the price for all of this( progress) is that Bill and Malinda Gates get to tackle diseases in third world countries where the profit motive is insufficient to attract others, then let's just hope for more incredibly rich entrepreneurs. If the price for all this is that Mark Zuckerberg wishes to focus on improving in select neighborhoods our obviously deficient education system, then let's pray for more Zuckerbergs and not criticize his choice of the neighborhoods he decides to help. Mr. Schneider, it seems, would prefer to critique these people for not putting these decisions up for popular vote by one or more large groups of people.

Mr Schneider uses the the World Health Organization as a foil for the Gates approach. The WHO, in his mind, has the apparent benefit of being owned/run by a multi government consortium. Mr. Schneider should really look into how much money the Gates family channels through WHO for the projects recommended to them by WHO. I suspect he will be surprised that WHO uses the Gates group of advisors to develop cost benefit analysis of potential programs to decide where there will be the best result for the dollars spent and that the Gates funnel tens of millions through WHO sponsored health programs, especially vaccination programs for children in the third world .
Warren Buffet, the liberal entrepreneur Saint of the Left, is so impressed by the results of the Gates approach that he has agreed to "spend down" his own enormous fortune by gifts to the Gates Foundarion. When asked why he didn't leave his money to be taxed as inheritance and then spent by the federal government , he made the sage comment that he thought the Gates people knew better how to spend those billions than the federal government!

Mr Schneider suggests that the Gates, Zuckerberg, etc are making people dependent on them. God forbid that the Gates, the Zuckerbergs, the Buffets, etc should spend so much money on disease prevention, education as to create a sense that private enterprise works better than government
The very odd thing is that Mr Schneider would and does hotly dispute that government programs for the same social justice purposes would ever create such dependence.
The difference is clear except to Schneider.:
We all know perfectly well that we have no right to Other People's Money but we all think we have a right to OUR government's programs. Mr Schneider has got the dependence/ expectation argument exactly backwards.
His suggestion that we proliferate a lot of mini me governments through co-ops and liquid democracies just adds more layers of bureaucratic decision makers to an already burdened system. Speaking of Catholic principles, how about testing Mr. Schneider's suggested approach with the guiding Catholic principle of "subsidiarity"? From my viewpoint "subsidiarity" and the suggested proliferation of decision makers are completely at odds.

Chuck Kotlarz
6 years 8 months ago

“We all know perfectly well that we have no right to Other People's Money.”

Who has a right to the money that does not go toward a living wage? What happens to the money that does not go toward a living wage? Who decides how many workers get a living wage and how many workers don’t?

More on Gates, Buffet and Zuckerberg: Gates and Buffet support a minimum 30% federal income tax. Zuckerberg supports a universal basic income.


Jaime Arredondo
6 years 8 months ago

Brilliant post Nathan. Thanks so much for writing that one up.

I've been looking forward to all of the tactics you've mentioned in your post, but haven't really been able to wrap my head aroun a strategy to put them all together.

Basic income is probably the foundation, but Cooperative conversion and direct is definitely another brilliant way to achieve that. Are there more examples than John Lewis Partnership?

JR Cosgrove
6 years 8 months ago

Mr. Schneider has been pushing cooperatives for a few years here at America. Nothing wrong with cooperatives as long as they are voluntary. For a few things they are efficient but for most things in our world today, cooperatives are very inefficient. People should find out what they like and if it works support it. However, one should definitely not coerce people like Gates and Zuckerman on how they spend their money. Be thankful, they are willing to do so. By the way Frick was shot and almost assassinated by the anarchists during the Homestead Strike.

Human nature/natural law points to competitive behavior for the advancement of humans to a higher economic, health and educational level. Free market capitalism has worked wonders in the last 200 years in spite of various problems over this time. Nothing else has lifted man out of its nasty, brutish and short struggle with the world like this form of capitalism. Cooperatives on the other hand have produced almost nothing. If they had, we would have seen more of this type of activity. No one has ever opposed it.

This does not mean that cooperative behavior is not essential in our society or that free market capitalism can cure every ill. Families, corporations and sports teams are all examples of cooperative behavior in our world. However, each of these units is very focused on success for their unit of organization. Show me a parent, business or sports team who does not want to succeed or compete and I will show a failed entity. Free market capitalism also does not prohibit helping behavior of various kinds as an essential part of our life as long as it is freely done. People have been helping their neighbors for thousands of years because they want to. The best example is the "Good Samaritan."

As far as the Church recommending big or small communism, I suggest one research St. John Paul II on his attitudes toward this nonsense. The gospels such as "The Talents" or the"Prodigal Son" point to a non communism way of life that Christ supports. In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, it is not that he is rich that the rich man is condemned but how he uses his riches. We are not judged by our economic system but how we personally lead our lives.

But why choose an inferior economic system that produces more poor and lots more problems. Mr. Schneider never has an answer for this. He just blithely advocates cooperatives as the cure for our ills when the evidence is just the opposite

Charles Erlinger
6 years 8 months ago

Here is my take on this essay.

The author employs rather transparent devices by which he apparently demolishes a straw man concerning the faults of Gates' software products as a logical foundation and reason for condemning the purported power of Gates' charitable foundation.

The pertinent excerpt follows:

"There is no question that Mr. Gates has proved his skill in turning buggy, insecure software into a global near-monopoly. Less clear is the meritocratic rationale for why this man’s foundation should rival the power of the World Health Organization, which is at least partly accountable to elected government."

And then he uses a critique of Windows Vista as a reason for the implied impropriety of Gates' possible future recognition as a humanitarian.

The pertinent excerpt follows:

"Yet long after anyone remembers the misfortune of running Windows Vista, Mr. Gates can expect enduring praise for pouring money into humanitarian pursuits."

Subsequently the author implicitly relies on these premises and some resentment-tinged remarks about other philanthropists to conclude that charitable donations should be directed and distributed through entities that have been elected, or somehow communally chosen, although by whom and on what basis is left unspecified.

Most, if not all of the subsequent discussion is devoted to means of distribution targeting and associated decision support techniques.

Little is revealed about the objectives, or desired end- states to be achieved, which, presumably, would be more to the author's liking.

James Haraldson
6 years 8 months ago

Not surprising that the vast sums of money used to promote crushing the skulls of the unborn by morally bankrupt minds like those of Bill Gates would not upset anyone at abortion supporting journals like America magazine to the point of even noticing. Instead they have the gall to insist that private money be turned over to what amounts to community organizers, no doubt with self-appointed experts, under some guise of democracy—as though democracy is an indisputable moral good—elbowing their way to the front of the line to tell the poor what is good for them, while they provide themselves comfortable accommodations to administer all the fruits of benefactors.

Margarita Lopez
6 years 8 months ago

I have gone through a "total" catholic education, from first grade to graduate school, ALL philosophy, and theology courses given by Jesuit trained professors....and I can only say that this article is most contrived and engaging in sophistry at every turn. It rings BIG ENVY of the capacity some individuals have to give whatever they wish to give from their bounty, in whatever manner they deem best in terms of their benevolent intentions. Mr. Gates has donated millions in Africa to save people from the ravages of AIDS, and Mr Zuckerberg made an outright donation of $100 million to contain the spread of Ebola when the crisis exploded. I find the premises in the article arrogant, judgemental, and absolutely misguided. It is virtually proposing a sort of legislation about how individuals are to go about pursuing their goodwill donations, as if to respond to some sort of donation governing electorate....totally preposterous, and anti Democratic to boot, for in the case of donations the donor is willfully giving up a resource which is his/her private property, a fundamental component of a free and democratic society. The writer's premises and their application are illogical at their core.....the pretense of the underlying syllogisms see FAKE, and the whole article is riddled with sophisms concerning democracy and democratic processes which are fundamentally based on individual rights. This writing IS NOT at the intellectual level of America, or Jesuit intellectual thinking. I expect much better!!!!!

Martin Luther
6 years 8 months ago

𝔻 The author writes, "there are few Martin Luthers complaining of it." However countless people have rightfully voiced serious concerns. Many more simply reject it in their work and in their lives including all the unsung leaders in places, communities, constituencies and identities most disproporionately harmed by greed-based systems who have called it like it is for generations. Addressing this rampant blindness will help more than introducing the topic as if it were to be discovered. May the work of your hands benefit the many.

6 years 7 months ago

"Just give people money and trust them to decide how best to use it." I've spent many years in developing nations working at community level development. My experience tells me this: if you give the money to the mother, the children will benefit. If you give the money to the father, it won't always be the children who benefit. If you give the money to the community, you are giving the money to the community leaders. Depending on the country and the culture, the money may be used for the good of the community or it may not. At certain levels of society, it is helpful to have qualified people work with community members to establish priorities for the community. In many developing nations, health and education are still pressing needs. Basic sanitation, drinking water, school buildings, school books, trained teachers, the building blocks of a modern society are not, necessarily, going to be the top priorities of a rural community. As the community works with the outside help, they gain expertise and experience. Yes, they'll get to the point when you give them the money they will use it for the good of the community. When that day comes, please give them the money.

Steven Arey
6 years 7 months ago

A solution is for the Fed to incrementally exchange a Consumption Tax with the Income Tax eventially eliminating Income Tax. Call the Consumption Tax "crowd sourcing" if you want. So, everytime anyone spends $1, 2% goes into Fed. Medicare "for all" fund. 2% goes into Social Security, 2% goes into K-14 education, 2% goes to Military defense, 2% goes into social welfare, 2% goes to pay off the debt., 2% roads and infrastructure. Make the IRS a "fraud, waste and abuse police department. After this is all done in about 10 years. Ask Mexico to become the 51st State, start collecting tax from Mexico, all of the Mexicans go home. Do the same thing for Cuba, Kuwait, Syria, ...........

James Cain
6 years 7 months ago

This article mentions the theory and practice of Catholic capitalism. While Catholic capitalism is the right capitalism there is nothing preventing well meaning Catholics from ignoring it much less those who are not Catholics. So, it is a very difficult job to get a majority of Americans and other well meaning people to practice this form of capitalism. For all the ills of atheistic communism one should recognize that it captured the hearts and minds of a significant number of people.

6 years 7 months ago

I rarely write comments but I do a great deal of fundraising and know that it is rare to find such people as Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. They are doing some fantastic work without getting entangled in the Bureaucracy that goes with the ideas that Nathan suggests. Other donors have added to the funds because of the success of their work. I am disappointed that America published this article and am well aware of how Bill Gates supports the Jesuit Schools, Cristo Rey.

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