The ultra-rich in America have been pursuing a philosophy known as “effective altruism.” This phrase has been in the news lately because Sam Bankman Fried often used it to justify his various donations. He has been charged with eight counts of fraud and conspiracy. That indictment isn’t providing a positive image for this philosophy of giving.
In the January issue of The Spectator, Leighton Woodhouse refers to these people as “Bad Samaritans.” The online version has this title: “How Big Philanthropy became Big Grift.” He begins by reminding us how Andrew Carnegie wrote an essay entitled “The Gospel of Wealth” to provide a moral playbook for the oligarchs of his era. He was working to rehabilitate his reputation as a “robber baron.” So were many of the other wealthy people at the end of the 19th century.
Fast forward to the present, and you have 40 of the richest people in America who signed a pledge to give all their wealth to charity during their lifetimes. This includes Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Mark Zuckerman, and many others. Woodhouse argues that they fail to turn their critical eye toward how they amassed their wealth in the first place. And it is a top-down view of social change designed to advance various social policies.
The Gates Foundation focuses on climate change. The Ford Foundation wants to end cash bail and supports groups trying to defund police departments. The Knight Foundation wants to combat “misinformation.” And George Soros is trying to decriminalize drugs through his Drug Policy Alliance.
Of course, millionaires and billionaires are free to spend their money and fund projects as they see fit. But they are also “bypassing the formal political process that gives the rest of us a voice.” That is why we should pay attention to the philosophy of “effective altruism.”