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The Charitable-Industrial Complex - A review

This opinion piece by Warren Buffet's son Peter Buffet is a game-changer in the world of philanthropy not because of what is said but for who is saying it and where and what the implications are for his foundation and others.

It's good to see the wealthy, powerful, and charitable own up to their shortcomings, their savior complexes and their ignorance. Of particular significance if the 'conscience laundering' (his term) and the inappropriate use of certain business principles in the growing industry that is philanthropy.

For those of us who are part of the implementation of these philanthropic endeavors who have struggled with the challenges of changing priorities, trendy strategies and what often seems like the whims and fancies of well-meaning (and guilty-feeling) wealthy donors, this op/ed (his first, hopefully of more) makes us feel heard. That finally, someone gets what we have been saying, writing and even whining about all these years; that just because you have money and hired some bright and eager, Harvard-minted consultant does not mean you have THE answer to the world's problems.

As Mr. Buffet admits, people are solving problems with their right hands that others (and in my view sometimes themselves) help create with their left. The same tax laws that benefits the wealthy and encourage the creation of foundations are the same tax laws which reduce the amount of money that the federal government has to spend on the same social problems that these philanthropist want to address.

I am not against wealth. I am not against capitalism. But there is something perverse about how wealth is created and preserved in the USA. Even Peter Buffet's own launch into philanthropy (his dad Warren Buffet set up foundations for his children) reflects the self-serving gifting of the wealthy who obviously think they can do a better job than government or anyone else. Each non-profit being based on a great idea competing with other non-profits for funding of the next attempt to solving 'the problems of poverty' often maintained (through union-busting, foreign outsourcing etc) by the same corporations which fund these foundations.

So it really is a relief, surprise and a bit of a validation to read this piece by Peter Buffet.

Thank you Peter Buffet for saying what needed to be said by someone with the money and power to make a difference in how philanthropy operates in the USA and the world. You have opened the door to new ways of thinking by saying you are willing to listen.

The Charitable-Industrial Complex by Peter Buffet, New York Times, July 25, 2013, p. A19


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