The cash-for-honours affair and Tom Hunter's philanthropy merely prove the rich call the shots in an unequal society, says Joan Smith in the Independent
Peter Mandelson remarked nine years ago that Labour ministers were "intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich"
During Blair's premiership the wealth of Britain's top 1,000 quadrupled.
The Scottish self-made retail billionaire Sir Tom Hunter, promised to give away at least £1bn to good causes before he dies. Hunter has joined an elite club of people who have made so much money that they are able to give away sums that most of us cannot even visualise ...Hunter is usually mentioned in the same breath as the hedge fund investor Chris Hohn, who has promised £230m to a children's charity run by his wife, and the financial trader Peter Cruddas, who is giving £100m to good causes which include The Prince's Trust and Great Ormond Street children's hospital.
Such donations are usually regarded as non-political, a harmless exercise in what's called "soft" power;...Yet a moment's consideration is enough to demonstrate the lack of democratic oversight at most private foundations, and while wealthy people may choose to support causes of which we all approve,.. they may just as easily make decisions which appear capricious or downright perverse. Some wealthy evangelical businessmen withhold money from organisations that support gay and women's rights...Despite the generosity of men such as Hunter, there is a widespread sense that there is something wrong with a society in which growing numbers of wealthy people are able to use their money to fund pet causes – or keep it for themselves... the fact remains that for every billionaire who decides to do something to combat Aids or malaria, there is another who prefers to buy yachts, wives or football clubs.
...there is compelling evidence not just that we are entering a new age of oligarchy, reminiscent of the US in the 19th century, but that it is corroding public trust in the political process. The names of the men who literally built America – Carnegie, Frick, Vanderbilt, Rockefeller – are familiar to this day; in a striking parallel with contemporary Britain, some of these tycoons had a highly developed sense of social responsibility and gave most of their money away. The Scottish-American steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie, who was originally from Dunfermline, gave away the equivalent of $4.3bn in his lifetime... There could hardly be a greater contrast than the railroad pioneer Cornelius Vanderbilt, who has been described as the second wealthiest person in American history, with a fortune estimated at the time of his death in 1877 at more than $100m (a staggering $143bn in today's money)... His son William got the bulk of his fortune, with next to nothing going to good causes.
The moral is that wealthy men are no more likely to be generous than poor ones; even such contemporary philanthropists as the Irish rock band U2, whose lead singer Bono never misses an opportunity to lecture political leaders about increasing aid to Africa, were revealed last year to have moved their financial affairs to the Netherlands in order to halve their tax bill. Private philanthropy is unreliable, in other words, and our increasing reliance on wealthy entrepreneurs to fund everything from clean water in the developing world to British political parties is a symptom of profound malaise.
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