I wrote about philanthropic billionaires for today’s Times and about Bill Gates in particular.
I don’t know if ConservativeHome’s proprietor would agree with me (Lord Ashcroft being a philanthropic billionaire himself and a signatory of The Giving Pledge) but I argued that the amount of money these charitable capitalists give may be less important than the disruptive impact they have on the sectors they donate to. With so many UK charities receiving such a large percentage of their income from government (I recommend this important essay by Frank Prochaska setting out the scale of politicisation of voluntary action) the big philanthropists have the clout to urge charities and social enterprises out of their comfort zones as Gates is doing on vaccinations, Bloomberg is doing on urban development and Zuckerberg is doing on education reform.
But I also end my piece by noting that while we should salute capitalist philanthropists the most important thing most capitalist philanthropists ever do is the capitalist rather than the philanthrophy thing. In the pursuit of providing us with our dinner the butcher, baker and brewer create jobs and compete with each other to provide better food, better service and perhaps a cheaper overall product (©Adam Smith). But few put it better than Lord Hailsham when he addressed the Conservative Christian Fellowship nearly 25 years ago. I was only able to quote a fraction of the speech in today’s Times and thought the full passage deserved more attention via ConservativeHome readers:
“The great advances which have been made in human happiness have been just as much due to the spinning jenny, the internal combustion engine, and the generation of steam as to the moral sublimity of a Shaftesbury, a Florence Nightingale, an Elizabeth Fry, or a Mother Teresa. Nor should we even exclude the benevolent liberalism of Beveridge. We must not adopt double standards about these things. The creators of wealth, provided they are honest and live decent Christian lives are not to be condemned as worshippers of Mammon, or even as second-class Christians. We are all children of Adam, all in need of redemption and pardon and if they are genuine followers of the Lord, a Henry Ford or a George Stephenson are just as much worthy of admiration as the great social reformers, and benefactors of their day. I am not seeking to canonise either Newton or Rutherford. Not to seek to whitewash great fraud, duplicity, or licentiousness. But we must not have double standards. We must not become worshippers of Habbakuk Muckewrath or Holy Willie any more than Mammon Priapus.”
Pasted at the top of this article is a photo of Lord Hailsham from the time he gave the speech. You may also recognise a younger David Burrowes (MP)… and a much thinner me!