Yana Djin Essays

The Business Of Giving
Moscow News

September, 2001

    Americans like to remind themselves that they are the luckiest nation on the planet. 
        Well, every now and then, most nations like to indulge inself-aggrandizement. However, what is simply a fact in other countries, often becomes an obsession in America. Americans find new reasons to pat themselves on the back. At times, this reaction is justified. The balancing of the Federal budget was worthy of a celebration. If nothing else, it was a guarantee that there will be no more boring discussions on how to balance the budget. Recently, however, when Americans declared themselves the smartest nation in the world, Europe let out a shrill laugh. The Americans, though, urged their Continental brothers to catch up with the times: "Intelligence of a society is measured by the number of millionaires and billionaires the given society has produced," Americans reminded the Old World. And indeed, America produces so many of them that becoming one now is a mundane affair. What occupies American hearts these days is not making capital but giving that capital away.
        According to the latest media accounts, America has become the most charitable nation in the world. A new era of philanthropy has dawned, we are being told, and, as usual, America is leading the way. The question which begs to be asked is this: Have America's rich suddenly become kinder? Local patriots are in a hurry to answer in the affirmative. They claim that Yankees are becoming more and more Christ-like. Christ would flinch at such a comparison, I'm afraid.
         The most visible example, Bill Gates, the cofounder of Microsoft, has donated a considerable chunk of his fortune -- enough to start a small country. Some of his critics attribute this gesture of generosity to Gates' attempt to soften his image of a high-tech "shark" amidst the government's anti-trust suit which he is facing. Gates, of course, denies this, and I must say I believe him. This gesture has less to do with legal and much more with psychological and business decisions. Even the richest man in the world is still only a man. As such, upon attaining the maximum in the temporal reality, he starts to consider his legacy. He begins to think of how he will be remembered by others. And Gates, like most people, does not want to be remembered as what he actually is -- an extraordinarily gifted geek and just as extraordinarily shrewd businessman who took the notion of a "healthy competition" to a new level: He obliterated it. Such a definition will certainly not guarantee him any warm memories. So, he wants to show the world his "sentimental side". What better way to do so than to throw an occasional bone?
         However, the way Gates throws this bone is precisely what would make Christ turn away in disgust. The concept that the right hand should not know what the left hand is doing is alien to this new breed of philanthropists. In fact, they want to make sure that when the bone lands it makes enough noise to catch the world's attention. If this were the only negative side-effect, it could be dismissed as a regrettable form of vanity. However, the direction in which this bone is thrown is also carefully calculated. Special organizations are sprouting up in the United States and a profoundly hypocritical term has been coined to identify them: "venture philanthropies". Their job is to "properly manage" the donated finances of the rich: to make sure that the kind capitalists'  deed is advertised and to make certain that the dollars which he gives are wisely appropriated. 
          Now, what does that mean? Let's take another charitable magnate as an example. Ralph Ellison -- the founder of the world's second largest software firm "The Oracle” has also decided to fork out some of his assets to needy students. He hired several executives from the leading venture philanthropy who would see to it that each and every cent which he donates is used to make each and every student that gets it into an Oracle specialist. As far as I am concerned, this is an enlightened way of buying slaves. He is killing two birds with one stone: creating a benevolent image of himself and providing the future of his company with cheap and sure workforce. Does this sound Christ-like to you?
          It is curious to notice that not one of these "sugar daddies" has donated a cent to the homeless: the most glaringly needy group in this country. The reason is only too obvious: This is not a good business strategy. Giving money to the homeless will not satisfy the two above-mentioned criteria. The homeless are not advertisement savvy and, most of them being past the age of thirty, are not trainable material. American philanthropists give money not where it is needed most but where they need it most. They take their cue form their homeland's foreign policy: We'll help you out if you do exactly as we say. Self-promotion and self-interest lie in every single one of their deeds. They constitute such a powerful elite that everything that they touch, instantly becomes a business. And"givingв" is no exception.
           Americaв's rich are no more idealistic than, say, Russia's oligarchs. Just like the latter, they recoil in disgust each time a political figure speaks of federally-funded social programs. They don't like these much because, if their money is taken away in taxes or through similar impersonal means, their names will not benefit but will get precisely what they deserve: anonymity. It is truly a shame that most Americans consider such men to be symbols of mercy and charity.
           So another question begging to be asked is this: How could we have so radically deteriorated during the past 2000 years to replace Christ as a symbol of mercy withthe sterile and clean-cut CEOs?

to the main page

to the content of essays page

Hosted by uCoz