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The Problem with Problems

Nick Englehart

Posted on April 23, 2020 20:48

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Why billionaires can't solve our problems.

Nothing makes a better story than when people give. Out of goodness, someone spends their free time cleaning up a park, making sandwiches for the homeless, or spend billions of dollars on world health initiatives. Those are the stories that grab us. When everything in the world is bad, tiny glimmers of hope appear. Benevolent billionaires like Buffet, Gates, and Soros give back to a world that allowed them to get rich. For that they are heroes. 

Billionaires have undoubtedly made incredible contributions to society. Whether through business or philanthropy their actions create change. The Gates foundation cut the rate of malaria in half between the years 2000 and 2017. Jimmy Carter’s foundation managed to eradicate Guinea worm disease worldwide; bringing reported cases from 3.5 million to only 25.

If you ask Adam Smith, the system is working perfectly. In Wealth of Nations, he stated, "The houses, the furniture, the clothing of the rich, in a little time, become useful to the inferior and middling ranks of people," and in charitable endeavors, they have convinced us of that. An Ideology that permeates at big conferences for banks like UBS they predict, "a future where the needs of society are met by the generosity of the brightest, best and richest 'entrepreneurs' and business 'leaders' of the age."

There’s a problem when so few people hold the power of change. They often do not possess the quantity of information necessary to implement correct solutions. During The Great Leap Forward, 30 to 55 million people died. One cause (of many) was the "Great Sparrow Campaign'' where citizens were encouraged to kill the Sparrow, a national pest. This led to an increase in the locust population causing a dramatic drop in crop production and widespread famine. 

This isn’t just a problem for fascist governments. Gates's malaria campaign has unintended consequences. Across Africa, the mosquito-nets used to solve one problem, create another. Inequality remains unsolved and treated nets are used to fish, destroying coral reefs, and poisoning fish. On another front Gates is expected to invest close to $1.7 billion in U.S education over the next five years. However, educators say that if (as it seemingly is planned) the funding only goes to higher grade levels his efforts will be ineffective. 

We cannot expect billionaires to be both benevolent and omniscient. Heck, we can barely expect them to be kind of good. As difficult and as painful as it may be we must take an active role in how our society helps people. What we can’t have is, "The reemergence of a benevolent aristocracy, supporting the people because the public is running out of money."

Adam Smith also warned us of something else. People are far more likely to approve of, admire, and attempt to emulate the rich. He claims this behavior has the capacity for undermining our morality and our happiness. The rich won’t solve our problems on their own, and even when they try they just as often fail.

Nick Englehart

Posted on April 23, 2020 20:48

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Source: Al Jazeera

In Kenya, capitalism has sought to trivialise women's rights and social justice through empty slogans and philanthropy.

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