Our society has coined expressions like “philanthropist” to encourage and hail people’s charitable spirit.
Look on the flip side of that shiny coin of generosity, however, and you’ll find that its base substance is societal selfishness. After all, the need for charity only exists because we’re tolerating intentional injustices and widespread inequality created by power elites.
A society as supremely wealthy as ours ought not be relegating needy families and essential components of the common good to the whims of a few rich philanthropists. Yes, corporate and individual donations can help at the margins, but they don’t fix anything. Thus, food banks, health clinics, etc. must constantly scrounge for more charity, while big donors have their “charitable spirit” subsidized with tax breaks that siphon money from our public treasury.
Especially offensive to me is the common grandiose assertion by fat cat donors that charity is their way of “giving back” to society. Hello – if they can give so much it’s probably because they’ve been taking too much! As business columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin points out, “All too often, charitable gifts are used… to make up for the failure of companies to pay people a living wage and treat their workers with dignity.”
It’s not just the unemployed who rely on food banks, but janitors, nannies, Uber drivers, checkout clerks, and others who work full time, but are so poorly paid they can’t make ends meet. That’s not a sad charity case, but a matter of criminal exploitation by wealthy elites – and the charitable thing to do is to outlaw it and require a living wage for all.
As Sorkin puts it, “The aim should be to create a society where we don’t need places like food banks… We should be trying to put the food banks out of business.”
“Real Charity: Pay Workers Living Wage,” The New York Times, December 24, 2019.