The Deceptive “Philanthropy” of Billionaires

(1-12-2017 Edition)

Throughout history the wealthiest few have always managed to justify themselves and rationalize that the majority of people who are deemed “less fortunate” are simply lacking in intelligence and ambition.

That has not changed. In fact, during the last three and a half decades, the wealthiest few have doubled down on that “reasoning” to absurd lengths, to the point where they have earned a very bad name. Even though the Reaganite ideology has insisted that the real problem is the laziness and the lack of self-reliance of the masses, society has realized the fact that the real problem is greed, corruption, and unfairness, and that the political economic system is designed to favor and entitle the wealthiest few at the expense of everyone and everything else.

Consequently, there are a group of “good” Billionaires and Multi-Billionaires who are striving to improve their image. And the commercial media is helping them to do so.

However, while it may sound good to many Americans, the campaign to paint a new image and boost the popularity and “moral” status of Multi-Billionaires must be exposed for what it is — an effort to ease the consciences of the wealthiest of the wealthiest few, and justify their being enabled and privileged to gain and hoard most of the nation’s wealth while appearing to be beneficent and even “philanthropic.”

One of the many ominous things about it is that the campaign has been spread by CBS News and especially its program Sixty Minutes, which is rather shocking. After all, it has a rich history of tough and fair investigative journalism, and for many years we could depend on it to expose the malfeasance and wrongdoing of powerful people in industry, banking, financial institutions, corporations and government.

However, we can no longer depend on that. In fact, the network has sold out and increasingly adopted and indirectly spread a misleading and erroneous idea and message.

To give you a good example, Sixty Minutes broadcast a big story on "The Giving Pledge," which aired first on November 17, 2013, and was rebroadcast on July 20, 2014 and yet again on January 24, 2016. It highlighted the so-called “new philanthropy” of some American Billionaires. In fact, it was declared there is a “Golden Age of Philanthropy,” and it praised the “Giving Pledge” started by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet.

The lead-in to the story stated that “since government can no longer deal with the nation’s problems, these Billionaires are uniquely qualified to step in and solve the huge problems.” They even said, “While resentment towards the super rich grows, there may be a silver lining taking shape. It turns out a lot of those rich people are giving staggering sums of money away ...”

Sounds good, though that idea and claim is extremely self-serving, misleading and even deceptive. After all, this “philanthropic movement” actually began earlier when Gates and Buffet realized that they had to counter the terribly bad public impression of the wealthiest few, and particularly of the wealthiest one percent of the American population that has gained and hoards most of the wealth of the nation. Just consider that corrupt and greedy Multi-Billionaires like the Koch brothers and the Walton heirs have given the wealthiest few a very bad reputation (which has been shown valid by all the corporate and banking corruption that has been exposed during the last three decades).

That is why Multi-Billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffet started the "Good Billionaires' Club" and have been doing their best to make a show of being “philanthropic.” And Bill Gates even had an article published in Reader's Digest in which he declared that "By almost any measure, the world is better off now than it has ever been," and "Incomes and other measures of welfare are rising almost everywhere."

The majority of Americans can tell you that is not true, in the world or in America. In fact, the majority of people in the nation and world can tell you that the opposite is true.

Granted, it is laudable to want to help the poor people of third world countries, and our government should by finally using the common wealth for the common good. But Americans need to face the truth, and the truth is that America has one of the highest rates of child poverty among all industrialized nations. That problem has gotten increasingly worse since 1981 and Reaganism, and it got much worse in 1996 when a Reaganite Congress passed the ostensible "Welfare Reform" legislation (and President Clinton wrongly signed it out of political expediency). And the problem has gotten much worse since unbridled greed and corruption caused the economic crash of 2008.

The latest UNICEF report on child poverty showed that 23.1 percent of American children live in poverty, giving the United States the second highest rate of child poverty out of 35 developed countries. Only Romania ranked higher in child poverty. And, in recent years, 20.5 million Americans have been living on less than half of the federal poverty level.

Now granted, real philanthropy and charity should be appreciated, in whatever form, and we should give Warren Buffet some credit for admitting that he should not be allowed to pay a lower tax rate than his secretary. However, no one should be misled by shows of “generosity or philanthropy” by those who have gained and taken so much more than they could possibly need, and the fact is that Billionaires and Multi-Billionaires are simply out of touch with the realities of most people's lives, and they don't realize the error of their ways.

The truth is that their egos are utilizing their powers of rationalization to the utmost, and they are trying to ease their conscience while in effect trying to protect and perpetuate the status quo and so that the unfair economic policies that enabled them to get so incredibly rich will continue to benefit the wealthiest few to the detriment of the great, vast majority.

The truth is that in America the wealthiest few must pay their fair share of taxes, as they can well afford to do, and their banks, lending institutions, companies, corporations and industries must also pay their fair share of taxes, because as it has been and is, they do not.

That truth is simply ignore or denied, and on January 12, 2017, Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase and the Business Roundtable was invited on the CBS Morning News program and spoke of their new "philanthropic" program to help high school students get job training. They are donating $200 million in ten states to fund the program -- a measly amount considering the profits and income of banks and their executives. But the main thing wrong with it is that such a program would not be needed if America funded its schools properly and adequately, with a fair and reasonable system of funding rather than an unfair system that robs children in poor communities of a good education.

America could fund its public schools properly and make them successful if the wealthiest few paid their fair share of taxes, so that government could do its job as it should, promoting the general welfare and using the common wealth for the common good.

 

The Growth (and Error) of Billionaires

Before Ronald Reagan gained the power of the presidency there were 13 Billionaires in America. However, now there are more than 460 Billionaires in America, and most of the nation’s wealth is held by the wealthiest few. And it’s no coincidence that as the rich have gotten incredibly richer, every one else has gotten poorer, because Reaganism has been perpetuated and even expanded by Republicans and Democrats alike.

This shows you the consequences: In 1980 the average CEO of a major American corporation was paid 42 times more than an average American worker. By 1990, American CEOs were paid 85 times more than workers. By 1999 (after Congress was controlled by Republicans for just five years), CEOs were paid 476 times more than the average worker. Now, many of them are paid even more, and it now amounts to over 500 times more than the average worker and about a thousand times more than their lowest paid employees, and sometimes much more. And it's only getting worse. In 2005 CEO pay rose 22 percent more, while the average worker's pay rose only3 percent, and that trend has continued.

This is in stark contrast to the situation in other countries. For example, German CEOs make only 13 times what the average manufacturing employee makes. In Japan, CEOs make only 11 times more. Even in England, where class distinctions are sharp, CEOs are paid just 35 times more. It might make sense that the highest paid executives be paid ten times more, but there is no reason whatsoever for American CEOs raking in 500 times more than the average worker and a thousand times more than their lowest paid employees. That is absurdly unfair and unconscionable. There is absolutely no excuse for it.

Speaking of comparing the U.S. to other places, Americans should know that in Western Europe workers don't even have to collectively bargain for a lot of worker benefits. Whether they belong in a union or not, most Western European workers get from four to six weeks of paid vacation per year, free prenatal care, long maternity leaves, longer parental leave, free child care, free health care, and much longer sick leave than in America. Furthermore, such benefits are guaranteed by the government. They are not something that had to be fought for by labor unions. Of course, they pay taxes accordingly, but fairly and willingly. The wealthy willingly pay about 50 percent of their income in taxes, because they understand that their society is far better off because of it, and the people get what they pay for.

That is in stark contrast to the wealthiest few in America, many of whom wind up paying only about seven percent of their annual income in taxes, due to all the tax cuts, tax breaks, shelters, loopholes and subsidies they’ve been given.

Clearly, the wealthiest few and their banks, corporations, industries and institutions do not pay their fair share of taxes, and take advantage of a corrupt, unfair, inequitable political economic system.

In spite of the truth, these “philanthropic” Billionaires claim they are “giving most of their wealth away” to save the world. But in fact a certain amount "given" by the rich in charitable donations is gotten back in savings on the "write off" itemized deductions from their tax liability, and they receive tax refunds that are increased due to those itemized deductions. So, while the money donated certainly does a lot of good, it means that the wealthy "donors" actually don't "give" the full amount that they donate. They get a significant amount of it back due to the decrease in their tax liability.

Furthermore, the charitable donations made by private foundations should also be reconsidered, because there are over 100,000 private foundations with total assets of about a Trillion dollars registered with the IRS, and those foundations donate only about $50 Billion a year. Their wealth does not decrease. It grows, so foundations like the Gates’ are a actually a profit making enterprise. They do a lot of good, granted, but just think of what a Trillion dollars could do to help the nation's infrastructure, schools, parks, public works, public services, etc. And also think about how these foundations decide where the money should go, and for what purpose, whereas if the government had that revenue it could actually do its job and use the common wealth for the common good.

Furthermore, such “charitable giving” and “donated” money goes wherever the donors choose, because they’ve been given the power to determine where the money goes — when most of that money should have gone into the People’s U.S. Treasury (if we had good government and if the rich were required to pay their fair share of taxes according to their ability to pay so that government would be financially able to do what it should do).

In other words, the whole process of “charitable donations” for itemized deductions to reduce one’s tax liability is wrong, for a variety of reasons. The U.S. Government should, at long last, use the common wealth for the common good, and ensure “the general welfare of the states,” as the Constitution requires. Government should not allow and enable the wealthiest few to gain, hold and control most of the wealth of the nation to suit their own agenda.

Such facts reveal that Reaganism has provided "government welfare for the rich," which enables many of them to pay an average of about seven percent of their income in taxes and provides them with subsidies, tax deductions, loopholes and shelters, and tax deductions for charitable contributions and donations. Thus the revenue of the national treasury is far less than it should be and could be, and our collective ability to afford what our nation needs is drastically diminished.

There is an immense amount of money that rightfully should be going into the people's national treasury where it could go where it’s most needed, for education and human services, for investment in people and the infrastructure — money that is instead used at the whim of the wealthy. And while some of it goes to good use, some does not.

That is not how it should work, because we should ensure that the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes so our government can do what good government should do -- ensure domestic tranquility; establish justice; keep the peace; promote the general welfare; provide for public safety, health, education and child care; provide for the common defense; build and maintain our infrastructure; and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.


More On How It Should Be

In 1948 The United Nations adopted The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and Article 25 states: "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control."

Ironically, the U.S. is one of the biggest failures in the world in that regard.

Since Reaganism and “trickle down” supply side Reaganomics has infected the country during the last 35 years, the wealth of the nation has actually "trickled" up to the wealthiest few, even though they were already excessively wealthy. Reaganite Republicans along with Corporate Democrats enabled or allowed the income of corporate Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) to rise steadily and absurdly, and gave them the privilege of paying little or virtually no taxes, and avoid paying their fair share.

It is unfair and absurd to put the country deep in debt and impose “austerity” policies on the people while reducing taxes for the wealthy, who keep getting wealthier and wealthier and can certainly afford to pay their fair share in taxes. If one’s income grows over 500 thousand dollars in a year, the percentage of that income owed in taxes should grow proportionately higher. Graduated taxes should be based on ability to pay. But, in America many of the very wealthiest few have been enabled to pay less of a percentage of their income than low income taxpayers do.

Furthermore, inequitable and unfair laws have enabled American businesses and corporations to indulge in price gouging and cut workers benefits, health insurance, and even pensions. America is going way backwards, while more rational countries in the world are going forward because they realize that the better workers are treated, the better off everyone is.

The impact of Reaganism is also revealed by the fact that by 2012 for every dollar earned by the average worker, CEOs got $354, whereas back in 1965 for every dollar earned by the average worker, corporate CEOs got only $20. That is one of many facts that reveal just how unfair the growing income disparity really is, and why the rich keep getting richer while everyone else continues to become financially worse off.

 

Worst of All, the Rich Blame the Victims of Poverty

The most shameful thing is how some rich people blame the poor people and the victims of poverty. Today very preposterous assumptions regarding the poor are rampant, especially in America. But the poor are not merely being criticized by the rich. During the last 35 years the poor have increasingly been falsely accused and labeled, and even demonized and criminalized by wealthy people.

It's even gotten to the point where scientific studies of social class based on annual incomes and education-levels have found that wealthy people ranked their social class according to the following erroneous beliefs: 1) Social class ranking is meritorious and determined by a just and fair society and world; 2) A "deserving wealthy aristocracy" should naturally govern; and 3) Poor lower-classes claim society is not fair just so they can blame someone else for their problems.

Such preposterous claims are debunked by the facts: The political economic system is not just or fair. It is rigged to favor and entitle the wealthiest few, at the expense of the majority, even though that violates the intent of America’s Founders. And America has the highest child poverty rate of most industrialized nations, and 79 percent of American children who live in poverty live in households where at least one adult is working full time!

Those are the facts. And yet preposterous claims are made by many rich people who believe in misguided thinking twisted by The Reaganite “Gospel of Prosperty.” And the fact is that, because they cling to such misguided and self-serving beliefs to justify themselves, the accusers and critics of the poor -- which include right-wing Republican and Libertarian "think tanks" and political action groups like The Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the "Americans for Prosperity Foundation" and so many others -- simply blame the victims of poverty.

They even claim that the poor in America aren't really very poor and don't know how good they have it. And the consequence of this propaganda is that now about half the American people think poverty is a natural, inevitable condition brought on by the poor themselves!

Granted, there are some lazy poor people. But among the poor and working poor population, the number that are lazy are few. There are over 100 million poor Americans (and their numbers are increasing), and it should be said again, and emphasized, that in most poverty stricken households there is at least one adult working full time.

So clearly the problem is not "laziness," as Ronald Reagan claimed, and as Reaganites ever since have claimed. The real problem is insufficient meager wages, and not enough jobs because corporations and industries are allowed by Reaganism to "outsource" and give American jobs away to people in foreign countries where labor is cheaper, and to reduce American employee status, wages and benefits.

Furthermore, while right-wing politicians claim that the working poor simply need to work harder to improve their education and skills, that is now very difficult to do, and even if they could, someone would have to do the jobs they are doing now!

Therefore, the problem is clearly an unjust, inequitable political economic system that entitles the rich at the expense of everyone else, and especially at the expense of the working poor.

Even though under Reaganism the assumption is that poverty is a natural and inevitable condition caused by the poor themselves, the cause of growing poverty in America is actually insufficient and inadequate wages doled out to the working poor. Moreover, it is caused by a general failure of government to regulate commerce, promote the general welfare and care for and help the disadvantaged, the elderly, and the disabled.

In other words, America is not what its Founders intended, because the U.S. Government does not promote the general welfare of the people in the states as the Constitution requires, and it does not ensure domestic tranquility by establishing fairness, equity, and justice for all the people. That's why most Americans now believe that the American Dream is out of their reach – while Billionaires pretend to be “philanthropic” and pat each other on the back.