A news story on the sale of Bob Hope's 50 million dollar home, complete with stargazing dome and profile-shaped pool, disgorged any number of comments suggesting that Hope should have given that money to the poor. Or more broadly to 'the people'.
Hope no doubt gave plenty of charity while among the living. And the act of giving charity is not really so different. There is an organization with a CEO and an office staff that is tasked with performing the charitable function. A percentage of the money reaches 'the people' who each receive less than the workers who worked on the Hope homestead. That is assuming they even receive money. Usually they receive some form of services, necessary or unnecessary, provided by the non-profit charity distributors.
There is a great deal of noise over the compensation packages for CEOs. Much of that noise is justified. The modern American corporation is a disaster suffering from the same short term thinking as every other institution. But very little complaint is made about the compensation packages for non-profit CEOs. And nothing is said about about the huge fortunes piled up by for-profit companies that run on government grants while working toward some noble cause such as Green Energy or distributing foreign aid from our government to the Third World.
The compensation package isn't the issue. It's the moral value of the work. The man who planned out Bob Hope's profile-shaped pool or sold the tickets for the movie that paid for it wasn't doing work of any value. But the man who got Bob Hope to sign over a check for a charity for feeding orphans somewhere east or south of there was doing work of moral value. Both groups of men were working to feed families. But one group was working to make the world a better place. And the other group was making swimming pools.
That's the way of thinking that currently governs the debate over the value of wealth and work.
A twenty-something Barnard grad with six figures of student debt making copies in the office of an environmental non-profit while wasting a fortune in education and ability is doing something of moral worth. But the man who dry cleans her office clothes isn't. The television producer who oversees infotainment on CNN is doing work of moral worth. The one who oversees a sitcom on CBS isn't.
Take a for-profit college and a non-profit college. Both presidents have absurd compensation packages. Both turn out students with useless degrees, one in Mayan poetry and one in video game design. Both sets of students can't get a job and both have student debt. The for-profit college student has forty thousand in debt. The non-profit has sixty thousand in debt.
But the reformers descend on the for-profit college, while completely ignoring the non-profit college, despite its under-the-table arrangement with a financial services group to saddle students with debt from the money they walk in the door while boosting the compensation of the administrators, because non-profit thieves hate competition.
The real difference is not in student experience or fairness. What matters is the purpose of the institution. The non-profit college is dedicated to making the world a better place. The for-profit college isn't. And humanitarian motives always beat profitarian motives, even when both are really profitarian.
Charity work is of course of moral worth. But we have a shortage of authentic work that helps others. What we have instead is the need for investing useless work or for-profit work with moral stature. It began in the entertainment industry where every movie, book and play had to be aimed at spreading awareness of something or stamping out something else. And then it was everywhere.
Technology is of moral worth if it's Green. If it's not, it isn't. Finance is of moral worth if it invests in companies that produce social value. Food is of moral worth if it's local and sustainable. Clothes are of moral worth if they come from recycled materials. Every industry and activity has a moral worth that can be assessed based on whether it's making the world a better place or not. And if it is found to be making the world a better place, then no assessment needs to be made of its quality or integrity.
This simplistic breakdown creates two classes. The benevolent altruists who never make money but are always making the world a better place. And the greedy financial types who make money and make the world a worse place while doing it. The former are never to be questioned, regardless of the abuses that they subject their employees to, their criminal behavior and their own greed. The latter are always to be questioned, challenged and denounced.
The trouble with the World Improvement formula is that it addresses motives, rather than behaviors or outcomes. It divides populations, organizations and activities into good or bad depending on the supposition that one group is creating value for others and only pocketing some of the money on the side, while the other is creating value only for itself. One spends 50 million building swimming pools in Southeast Asia to help empower children. The other spends 50 million building a swimming pool.
A great deal of corruption, abuse and greed take place under the shadow of this progressive litany. Jim Jones committed terrible atrocities under the shield of making the world a better place. As did Stalin. More ordinarily huge fortunes have been spent and stolen by organizations forever busy making the world a better place.
Obama has squandered huge amounts of money on loans and grants to Green companies run by his backers. Both sides claimed to be only interested in making the world a better place. And if all the money is going, the taxpayers who do the uninspiring work of feeding their families, rather than making the world a better place, can pick up the tab.
The American taxpayer has his life largely run by humanitarians who want to make the world a better place. His civil rights have been stripped away from him for that same benevolent reason, with no protest from the usual sources, because civil rights violations for reasons of making the world a better place also must go unexamined.
All this benevolence has not made life any better for Americans. By and large people are poorer and have fewer rights. The War on Poverty was fought successfully by profitarians paying people to make pools. It was fought unsuccessfully by humanitarians who examined the conditions of poverty and concluded that more money needs to be invested in paying humanitarians to examine the conditions of poverty.
The United States has gone from a country that made for-profit jobs to a country that makes non-profit jobs paid for by the people who still work for-profit jobs. The transition is rapidly bankrupting the country on a municipal, statewide and national level. The Occupiers cheerfully brandished signs that declared, "One day the poor will have nothing left to eat but the rich." More accurately the poor one day will have nothing left to eat but social workers. And the rich will be running companies contracting multilingual translations for hunger outreach services.
That's already the way it is in California.
The United States is trying to function as a non-profit country by running up a ton of debt while trying to make the world a better place. The man in the White House has a Nobel Peace Prize, the debt is sky high and the only people feeling confident about keeping their jobs are the ones working to make the world a better place.
Making the world a better place has become a religious test. An oath of fealty to progressive values. Paying homage to it permits any degree of corruption and abuse. Refusing to do so brands one a heretic who must be up to no good.
Productive work is being destroyed while non-productive work is being subsidized with the past, present and future wealth of a nation. All this is being done for supposedly humanitarian reasons, yet the people who are suffering the most are the ones whom the humanitarians claim to be trying to help.
The first casualties of an economy that rewards Barnard grads who want to save the world, but punishes men who dig out pools are the latter. The next group hardest hit are the middle class who are squeezed out by high taxes and economic uncertainty. These are the people on whose backs the non-profit state rests. And they are its natural enemies. The progressives hate the middle class and the sense of property and security that it represents, and yet they depend on it. Like a parasite they kill the host and destroy themselves in the bargain.
The idea that making the world a better place begins with dedication to humanitarian activity is a dangerous fallacy. There are extraordinary people who can genuinely change the world that way, but they are a tiny minority. An entire society cannot exist in that way. All that does is transform a productive economy into a consumptive economy as for-profits become non-profits and suck away money while pretending to make the world a better place.
Long before the rise of the non-profit society, the United States was making the world a better place through invention and the occasional intervention. There was a time when it graduated far fewer college students and those students had much more of a positive impact on the world than the far larger number being graduated today.
No one had to invite celebrities to their graduation ceremonies to tell them to follow their dreams or keep social values in mind. They made life better by making better things, rather than by trying to make things better.
America used to be a country that made better things. Now we try to make life better, while our working population buys worse things from worse countries that lend us money for our eternal quest to make the world a better place.