- Politics and Social Issues
Don't Give To Charity: The Case Against Philanthropic Ideals
Charity Of The 21st Century: A Cruel Gimmick To Fool The Poor
Since the moment we were old enough to understand generosity, we've been told that donating to charity is the best way to exercise one's generosity and to help those less fortunate. I haphazardly played along with this game when I was a teenager growing up in an upper-middle class household by donating, rather generously, money to almost every homeless person I came across. It was not until I went through much suffering, hardship, and poverty myself throughout most of my 20's that my views changed. As I drifted from rich to poor (presently I'm now clawing my way back into the middle somewhere), I have now come to the realization that what we consider to be charity is a cruel joke where the poor suffer the most. If anything, charity is appealing to a select few who are too lazy to come up with anything else, in retrospect it isn't difficult to simply throw money around.
Where charity rears it's ugly head as a con game is in the mind set of today's entrepreneurs. When I was first interested in starting my own business, a part of me wondered why big tycoon entrepreneurs had a vast interest in creating large scale charitable organizations. I was told something along the lines of "it's about giving back to the community" or "it's about helping those less fortunate," but I never bought it. The best way to help the poor is to make them poor no longer. Many of these entrepreneurs had the power to alleviate poverty completely by simply paying their poor workers more money. The whole thing comes across as a cruel joke to me. Entrepreneurs are creating charitable organizations to help the poor, which in many ways entrepreneurs help to perpetuate through unreasonably low wages to their workers. Rather than use those millions for charity, why not just simply pay their workers more?
I remember getting into this debate with a mentor of mine at the time. Basically, he agreed with me that my philosophy helps the poor by not becoming poor, but he told me that "charitable enterprises" are a necessary component to being an entrepreneur. His argument came down to politics. Basically, the skills you use to build a profitable business must also be used in the same fashion to create a social business. Otherwise, you run the risk of not being treated seriously and you'll be out of business completely. I have an understanding where he's coming from, a modern day entrepreneur who pays his/her workers what they're worth could potentially be labeled a pinko commie and commit political suicide. Regardless, I believe the reason why entrepreneurs engage in social enterprise rather than simply paying their poor workers more money is for the following reasons: public relations (advertisement) and control.
Let us start by analyzing what I see as a desire for control. I can't help but feel that the wealthy amongst us, because they're wealthy, believe they're more qualified to judge and do with our money. Entrepreneurs don't trust their poorest workers to do well with any additional funding. Their attitude is because they're poor, they can't manage money properly, so I'll continue to pay them poorly (talk about a catch-22). So instead entrepreneurs fund the poor as they see fit through social enterprise.
Entrepreneurs hate the idea of relinquishing this power by simply paying their working class employees, who they see as irresponsible and dumb, more money. I remember growing up seeing this condescending attitude first hand. When I was a young man, my employer paid me a pitiful paycheck that of course barely made rent. His attitude was much the same as every employer I've experienced dealing with entry level jobs. Often he would hand the paycheck with comments such as, "don't spend it all in one night getting drunk." This employer is typical of many in the attitude that because I was young and poor, I must be stupid with money. This employer also had his office decorated with plaques commemorating his charitable contributions to the community. One of those plaques was opening up a rooming home for poor single mothers. It's ironic, because the majority of his workforce was single mothers earning a minimum wage, in which he refused to give raises. Instead he spent money that could have been used to upgrade their wages on this rooming house. See my point? This condescending and elitist attitude on the part of business owners flows into the charities we see created. I've been on both sides and have seen it first hand. The sad reality of the situation is that entrepreneurs fear following in the footsteps of a company such as Costco due to being labeled communist, yet the system the majority are creating resembles a lot like communism. The attitude that only we know best how to help the poor and the poor cannot possibly help themselves, so we'll decide everything for them.
Then we have the public relations angle. That employer of mine sure looked good with all those plaques commemorating his charitable work. I remember how when customers entered the establishment they looked so impressed and were more willing to buy, buy, and buy. This is the second motif behind social enterprise. It's mostly an inexpensive form of advertisements. There's no plaque or media attention for an employer who pays his employees well, but there's plenty of attention given to that employer who pays all his employees minimum wages and uses the increased profits toward building a homeless shelter or helping a starving kid in Africa. I find the disconnect society has between corporate charities and corporations paying little to be appalling. People should have the intelligence to put the two together, but they don't. The voodoo that’s Keynesian economics is fully ingrained in their skulls.
So How Best To Exercise Your Generosity?
After all of the following mostly negative experiences, I swore an oath that I would never give to charity. No longer will I hand money to random people on the streets. The saying "teach a man to fish . . . " rings true in such cases. I would never hand money blindly to an organization where I know for a fact the only people making middle class wages are the people who run the organization, while the people they're apparently trying to help still remain poor. Not only do they remain poor, but the organization which I would fund, also feels the need to tell the poor how to run their lives. I will never hand money to a "charity awareness" fund, where I know most of the money goes toward funding the band, telephone lines, advertisements, etc. rather than directly in the hands of the people they're apparently trying to help. Never will I siphon money off to a 3rd world country where I know a tin pot dictator will simply collect the money as his own. I told myself, if I were to ever run a successful business, I would take pride in being labelled the least charitable entrepreneur. All of the proceeds will be going directly to the people who work in the company. My success will be their success.
So how do I best exercise my generosity? I wouldn't even call it generosity, but exercising two areas of greater importance: fairness and justice. My key is simple: tip and tip big for exceptional service. We're entering a service economy, and as much as I hate the idea as I feel it's economic suicide, this does provide an opportunity for everyday people to have a say in how people should be truly paid and treated for a job well done, because the employers certainly won't do it. The money I would normally lay aside for charity, I instead use to tip big everyday working class people for a job well done. By paying it forward utilizing this method, I know the money is directly going into the hands of the poor people I wish to help. I know the money is going to someone who deserves it. I know such a contribution makes a person smile while feeling confident and deserving, rather than many conventional charities where the poor reluctantly accept the money feeling inadequate and inferior.
Finally, I will end this Hub with a rather harsh message: To a lot of well-meaning people who want to help the poor, please stop. A lot of you don't have the faintest clue what you're doing and you're causing more harm than good. As someone who has been poor, I would rather you keep the money to yourselves than fund a lot of these charity organizations that run like tin pot dictatorships. Besides, all you're doing is funding someone's humanity university degree. You’re not actually helping the poor. If you want an easy method to help the poor, do as I suggested, thank the poor for a job well done and pay big money. I realize not everyone is capable of working, but please keep in mind that many of the working classes have disabled family members they're trying to take care for off their pitiful wages. If you want to help the poor, simply paying for a job well done, so they won't be poor any longer, is the best way to do it. It may not be as glamourous as what the celebrities performs on television, but if you truly cared about the poor, this wouldn't be about you trying to purchase your way into heaven or earning "goodwill credits" in the eyes of your community. Images are misleading, your eyes can deceive you, don't trust them.
If you want to keep on funding the advertisement of a corporation or a special interest group, then by all means, keep on donating to "charity." If you want to actually help the poor, then tip and tip big.
-Donovan D. Westhaver
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