May 3, 2018

The rich have a moral duty to philanthropy. Do they really deserve praise for it?

Is an annual donation of $18 million to charity a great act? It depends on the context.

Daniel Petre

Investor and philanthropist

The AFR Magazine recently ran a major piece on the levels of giving of some Australians  --  with Twiggy and Nicola Forrest (and their 24-year-old daughter) featuring on the cover. The magazine included a list of the top 50 givers in Australia and generally overly positive stories about all these “amazing” philanthropists.

The AFR also produces its Rich 200 list annually, so with these two lists we can review and perhaps posit a thesis as to the giving patterns of our most fortunate. Before embarking on a meta analysis of the lists maybe I should spend a little time on the argument: why should people donate/give?

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13 thoughts on “The rich have a moral duty to philanthropy. Do they really deserve praise for it?

  1. Bob the builder

    “The rich have a moral duty to philanthropy”
    No they don’t. The government has an ethical duty to stop people getting so disporportionately rich. I want excess wealth to be controlled by an elected government, not the whims of the rich.
    If the rich have any duty, it’s to pay tax.

    1. Robert Beverley

      Exactly this.

  2. Junter

    When the ultra-rich give away large amounts to charities I think that they are dealing with guilt about where their money came from, and attempting to buy public esteem.
    When the ultra-rich give large amounts to political parties I know they still want more money and are not fussy about how they get it.

  3. Deb

    Even those of us below the poverty line in this rich country in Australia are richer than most of the people in this world. Some of us feel like acknowledging this by giving our 1% or more. We’d like, though, to know that it went to people poorer than ourselves rather than augmenting an already well-paid person’s salary. What we need is not a guide to the rich philanthropists, but a guide for the low income giver.

  4. graybul

    Philanthropy . . . may be a blessing. An equitable society . . . remains a dream.

  5. paddy

    Philanthropy, is the first, second and last refuge of the scoundrel.
    Any system that requires it to keep the poor afloat … is borked. 🙁

  6. Jack Robertson

    Keep your charity: pay your tax.

  7. CML

    How about some form of death duties on the ultra-rich?…since many of them don’t appear to pay much tax while they are alive!
    Sort of an enforced ‘pay-back’ to the society they have ripped off during their lifetime.
    And an endorsement of BTB’s comment…we the people, will decide who is the most needy!!

    1. Woopwoop

      Not only the ultra-rich, but maybe the top 50% or so should be charged death duties. Many of the older generation are now millionaires, simply because they were lucky enough to be able to buy a house when it was within the grasp of any wage-earner. Why should their descendants get to be millionaires also, when many young people now will never afford a house?

  8. Peter Schulz

    Forget this 50/20 business. I prefer the principle espoused by the early Christian church – a person’s generosity is not measured by how much they give, but by how much they have left over. On that scale, the rich are still selfish, even if they give a few crumbs to the dogs under the table. And let’s also dispense with the curious notion of the ‘self-made millionaire’. No-one gets rich by playing with themselves. All wealth is created socially and should be shared communally.

  9. AR

    The rich do not have morals, else they would not be rich.
    It’s long receded into ancient history but Obama was filleted, not least by those who should have known better, for his reply to Romney in his Bane persona, “you didn’t build that!”
    Until there is something approaching progressive surtax, the old Wrong will be perpetuated by the NuRite, “privatise the profit, socialise the losses”.
    Anyone remember the GFC?
    Who bailed out the banksters?
    Well, the government (T1/T2 is irrelevant) did but using the taxes of We, the People.

  10. Ruv Draba

    I’m not clear that there’s anything about the social obligation argument that applies only to the rich, Daniel. If you’re healthy, safe, well-housed, educated and in work then that’s a personal benefit created from social capital. While it’s true that taxes can pay for it, taxes don’t care, innovate, direct themselves, monitor efficacy or realise their own benefits.

    That’s surely a citizen’s job, and if it happens to also include nourishing benevolent, well-run non-government organisations with extra cash, well that’s fine too.

    But I also agree with an earlier comment. If you see it as a normative moral obligation to spend excess private wealth on public benefit, then you’ve just made a case to change the legislation. At least then, it’d be publicly accountable and economically responsive. Your argument seems to be trying to claim moral authority while avoiding public accountability, which makes your proposal either too weak or too strong, depending on one’s perspective.

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