Real Philanthropy Requires Some Rich Guy's Money


'You can't take it with you. Where would you put it all?' ~ Comedian Steve Wright

While surfing through some of my favorite general science websites, I came across this story about how Jeff Bezos, the founder of, is joining Burt Rutan, Richard Branson, Paul Allen, and others in starting a private space venture.

This is one of the serendipitous benefits to society as a whole of private people accumulating wealth. Unlike politicians who want to 'build legacies' and presidential libraries (in their dreams) with taxpayer monies, self-made billionaires such as the above-mentioned are fully able to spend their own money to follow their bliss. What a concept!

In contrast to them are the much-ballyhooed politicians such as the US Senate's own Prince of Pork, the indefatigable Robert Byrd of West Virginia . Senator Byrd has showered his state with so much money from the US Treasury for so long that he has reached the point where he is even grudgingly admired by some.

What these people fail to appreciate is that all the funds the West Virginia Democrat has caused to be spent in his state is money taken by tax collectors from people and firms in the rest of the nation who have no interest or concern with West Virginia. If these involuntary donors to West Virginia had their druthers, those funds would be used or spent for things for the benefit of the people who earned them in the first place. What a concept!

Mr. Bezos' efforts to build a for-profit space enterprise are a prime example of what happens when people can accumulate large amounts of private capital. Instead of being taxed by Senator Byrd and his 99 colleagues to spend as they deem necessary and proper on, say, another road, bridge or other boondoggle in West Virginia , Bezos can spend as he sees fit.

One of my favorite buildings in my neighborhood is a Carnegie Library, one of many still extent in America , which were built in early part of the 20th Century by steel and railroad magnate Andrew Carnegie with some of his vast wealth. All over America , he spent his money building libraries, which were then turned over as gifts to the communities where they were raised. All that commemorates his gift to my city's people is a 12' X 12' brass plaque in the foyer of the building. I can only poorly estimate the huge number of people in my community and in towns and cities all over America over several generations whose lives were improved by these libraries. My family and I sure have. As I am writing this paragraph, the television is on in the background tuned to the PBS station. A sponsor for one of my favorite programs is the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

And this is more than eight decades since the Robber Baron, as he was called by some, died. No doubt Senator Byrd will get a giant, bronze statue cast in his honor after he passes, and no doubt it will be taxpayer-funded, too. How much benefit does a tax donor from Los Angeles or a bicycle shop owner in New Jersey receive from the Senator's eventual monument? There is none that I can determine.

As a would-be Linux user myself, I deplore and detest many of the business practices of the Microsoft corporation, and I sometimes find Bill Gates obnoxious and arrogant. But I will not dispute that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation delivers a genuinely huge amount of medical facilities and treatment funding for the world's poor. And all on his own dime, and for no personal benefit other than the satisfaction that it brings him. The money the Gates Foundation is endowed with was earned from Microsoft's sharp business practices and sales of their buggy, over-priced software, and Gates himself often seems a clueless jerk. All these and similar things were no doubt said about Mr. Carnegie, too, in his day by the media.

As philosophers of liberty have pointed out, the multiplier effect of 'public spending' is nowhere near as moral, rational, and beneficial to society as private spending is. Individual freedom doesn't really amount to much without economic freedom to accompany it. Being free to be poor doesn't seem like such a good thing in theory or practice unless one is personally inclined that way.

Moral wealth, such as great figures in history such as Thoreau, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Bishop Tutu, and Mother Teresa of Calcutta, to mention but a few, leave lasting legacies also. Their endowments of inspiration, courage, and moral action inspire us all, but they aren't tangible. A library or a million doses of vaccine are. And to build libraries or set up vaccine production labs takes money. So do monuments and statues, but what good do they do in the final accounting? Unless you're a pigeon or a sculptor, statues of statesman do not likely benefit you very much.

It is fully acknowledged that some of the idle rich (Paris Hilton comes to mind here) are jerks, feebs, and spoiled idiots who piss away their wealth on trifles and high living that all comes to naught, but so do many of the rest of us, too.

How much philanthropy is accomplished in dirt poor Third World countries, or dictatorial kleptocracies, theocracies, or other 'slave nations' such as North Korea , Cuba , or Zimbabwe ? These examples beg the question, but they also make the point clear. Real long-term benefit comes from real action, and real action requires real money. And really a lot of it, too.

The private firm or individual is what and who creates the wealth to do these noble and wonderful things. Think of that chain of causation as the silver lining of eventual good that will happen next time Windows XP crashes.

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Ali Hassan Massoud's picture
Columns on STR: 43

Ali Massoud is a proud old-school isolationist who writes for the Internet and blogs.