Good News, Everyone! (Really)
December 20, 2020 5:24 AM   Subscribe

MacKenzie Scott has given $4 billion to charity over the last four months, mostly to smaller organisations and colleges. Her donations eschew the usual pattern for billionaires who spread out their donations over decades and favour wealthy and prestigious institutions. “They came like gifts from a Secret Santa, $20 million here, $40 million there, all to higher education, but not to the elite universities that usually hog all the attention. These donations went to colleges and universities that many people have never heard of, and that tended to serve regional, minority and lower-income students.” (NYT/Archive.is).
posted by adrianhon (62 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
According to Wikipedia, over the same time period her net worth has increased by $26 billion.

I don't mean to diminish her charity in any way. I just can't wrap my head around the scale of these numbers.
posted by Orange Pamplemousse at 5:34 AM on December 20, 2020 [21 favorites]


Yeah, her wealth is the type one cannot give away fast enough (like, logistically, I don't think it would be possible for her to give away money faster than she is making it in our current system), but at least she's trying her damnedest. Good for her.
posted by dinty_moore at 5:42 AM on December 20, 2020 [18 favorites]


I work in fundraising for a national nonprofit and my Gchat blew up this week with coworkers asking if I'd heard about this. YES I HEARD ABOUT IT THANKS. "Do we know her? Do you know why we weren't picked?" It was not a fun week.

That said, I've been catching up on Scott's LinkedIn feed and blog posts and it really does sound like her team did a huge amount of due diligence. Part of this sentence in particular seemed ... on-point:

"We looked at 6,490 organizations, and undertook deeper research into 822. We put 438 of these on hold for now due to insufficient evidence of impact, unproven management teams, or to allow for further inquiry about specific issues such as treatment of community members or employees. "
posted by Sweetie Darling at 6:02 AM on December 20, 2020 [26 favorites]


Nah, fuck her still.

If her wealth grew by $26 billion, she's only given $4 billion away, and she hasn't even looked into, I don't know, getting that money in the hands of literally starving people in the last four months she can fuck right the fuck off with this PR fluff bullshit.

We're in a pandemic and people are losing their homes. Unless she is helping those people directly who gives a fucking rats ass?

This lady helped build a company that treats its workers as endlessly expendable and people cry at their fucking desks. I reiterate, who gives a shit what this travesty of a woman does unless she's helping people directly and not means testing it like she deserves to choose where this money goes. Why the fuck should we trust her, again?

Fuck charity. This is why progressive taxation is important.
posted by deadaluspark at 6:02 AM on December 20, 2020 [63 favorites]


or to allow for further inquiry about specific issues such as treatment of community members or employees.

I reiterate, she helped build a company where people consistently cry at their desks, why should her opinion on the treatment of employees matter or be taken in any way seriously?

What a load of absolute bullshit.
posted by deadaluspark at 6:07 AM on December 20, 2020 [7 favorites]


This lady helped build a company that treats its workers as endlessly expendable and people cry at their fucking desks.

....I think you mean that her ex-husband did that.

If her wealth grew by $26 billion, she's only given $4 billion away, and she hasn't even looked into, I don't know, getting that money in the hands of literally starving people in the last four months she can fuck right the fuck off with this PR fluff bullshit.

She also gave just shy of another two billion prior to that, to organizations supporting LGBTQ rights, racial equality, and climate change. Unless she stops giving away money altogether, let's maybe not cast judgement just yet?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:15 AM on December 20, 2020 [61 favorites]


OOooh, the pitchforks and firebrands are out already! Surely someone's building a guillotine?

What I find impressive about her giving is she's picking existing organizations. At this scale many of the ultra wealthy build their own organizations. The Gates Foundation, for instance, or the Carnegie Foundation of 100+ years ago. Those organizations can do great things but can't help but seen as extensions of their founders' ego.

Scott instead has just given the money to existing groups. Telling them to go do what you're doing, but more. This kind of giving isn't easy; you have to pick organizations and pick ones that can use the money effectively. I admire the speed she's done that at.

I also admire what Jack Dorsey has been doing recently with charitable giving. He designated some $4B to go to charity. And has also been giving it swiftly to existing organizations, focused mostly on Covid relief and social justice. It's an interesting and thoughtful list and I'm using it to inspire my own charitable giving.
posted by Nelson at 6:18 AM on December 20, 2020 [30 favorites]


....I think you mean that her ex-husband did that.

I spent some time Googling instead of replying to this thread, and yeah she was an early supporter and employee of Amazon. She did indeed help build a company where people cry at their desks.

The lesson I'm taking from it is not "fuck this woman in particular" because it feels weird to single out a woman who was Amazon's first accountant as someone who deserves special vitriol, but more that American capitalism is fucked and the antitrust lawsuits coming down the pipe can't get there soon enough.
posted by Merus at 6:23 AM on December 20, 2020 [25 favorites]


Stipulating that the existence of billionaires is a bad thing, on the “PR bullshit” front the NYT piece notes that the donations were initially asked to be kept confidential, but at least one recipient asked that it be made public to inspire others to donate to these kinds of organisations.
posted by adrianhon at 6:24 AM on December 20, 2020 [15 favorites]


Ditto what others have said here - a real Christmas gift (like, in the Christian sense) would be having robber barons like MacKenzie Scott taxed out of existence.
posted by ryanshepard at 6:39 AM on December 20, 2020 [2 favorites]


Billionaires shouldn't exist. But since they unfortunately do exist (and currently aren't taxed enough to notice), this seems like a far better model for how to give money away, with the focus on giving to existing organizations where the gifts will have a huge impact. What would be a drop in the bucket for Harvard is life-changing elsewhere.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:45 AM on December 20, 2020 [25 favorites]


Note to self: If I hit it big and give away billions spare no expense to make sure the Mefites never find out.
posted by COD at 7:08 AM on December 20, 2020 [102 favorites]



According to Wikipedia, over the same time period her net worth has increased by $26 billion.
I don't mean to diminish her charity in any way. I just can't wrap my head around the scale of these numbers.
____
Yeah, her wealth is the type one cannot give away fast enough (like, logistically, I don't think it would be possible for her to give away money faster than she is making it in our current system), but at least she's trying her damnedest. Good for her.


Yeah that jumped out at me too. I am wondering why not, instead of trying to give it away, why not create something similar to a sovereign wealth fund, but for (disadvantaged people of your choice). You could set it up to keep growing, but to shed like 50% of its profits onto... well, anyone really. Payouts to people with crippling medical debt, or minority university students, or First Nations... Such a thing could grow into a behemoth, have a real impact over time.
posted by Meatbomb at 7:19 AM on December 20, 2020 [5 favorites]




It's great she's giving away a tiny part of her wealth to help people. It's great that a tiny part of her wealth is enough money to keep good organizations afloat for a while.

It's fucking dumb, however, that we live in a world where we need to rely on PR charity like this and where $4 billion is chump change for certain people.
posted by dazed_one at 7:20 AM on December 20, 2020 [16 favorites]


Like, for me, I would just set it up to give regular paycheques to the bottom 3/4 of the people of El Salvador. No particular connection there, but seems that could do a lot of good. If / when El Salvador met certain conditions in terms of their overall wealth / development, reduce those payments and move on to the next deserving country.
posted by Meatbomb at 7:22 AM on December 20, 2020


I'm still trying to understand the ways in which the ongoing upward transfer of wealth has managed to accelerate through a plague.

That said, for better or worse, it is the system we are in, and pretty much no one else in her fractional decile of wealth appears to be redistributing it in the manner in which she is doing. No one, really.

Not even governments, which are bending over backwards to funnel money in the other direction, upwards into private hands, through tax cuts paid by long-term debt that is financed on the backs of non-billionaires.

When we're in the middle of a plague and a government bails out cruise line corps to the tune of billions, say, so that they can effectively buy back stock, but that same gov't can't even cut people a $600 check to pay the rent, I don't think I can really fault Ms. Scott for trying in some way to set things right, within the scope that fate has afforded her.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 7:23 AM on December 20, 2020 [9 favorites]


I wonder if four billion dollars would shift some elections to get more progressive candidates in office? Or be enough leverage to get e.g. Portland to completely reform policing.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:28 AM on December 20, 2020 [1 favorite]


Hey guys, I just want you to know, not to brag, but to lead by example, that I have generously given away almost half of my earnings this year. It sounds really wild, but a lot of people are doing it. It's this government system called TAX and I think some of these rich assholes should think about participating in it.
posted by adept256 at 7:28 AM on December 20, 2020 [40 favorites]


If you're interested in the higher education aspect of this story, here's Inside Higher Ed's report.
posted by doctornemo at 7:30 AM on December 20, 2020 [3 favorites]


Gee adept256 it’s almost like if we organized this properly we could use it to fund a whole raft of previously-set up initiatives and services with their own existing infrastructure and networks of delivery. Why, if we funded it properly, many of those national (or even international!) agencies, might be able to do a good job. This sounds like an idea worth looking into!
posted by aesop at 7:41 AM on December 20, 2020 [12 favorites]


I know there are a billion reasons to be cynical about this, but giving to HBCUs, and especially to non-high-profile HBCUs, is a really smart and effective strategy. They're really struggling right now, and they're a huge and often-overlooked force for educational equity in the US.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:42 AM on December 20, 2020 [39 favorites]


Fuck charity, the performative marginal redistribution of a tiny percentage of the value stolen by capitalists to whatever catches their fancy.
Progressive taxes for people and corporations, now.
posted by signal at 7:45 AM on December 20, 2020 [11 favorites]


Also fuck charity specially going to higher education, when having a bachelor’s degree won’t get me anything other than entry level job that would take years to earn enough to pay off the loans... assuming I didn’t do anything like eat or pay rent, doing those makes it more of a decades proposition.

But we still have people coming in here and saying ‘don’t worry she’s not the one who made people cry at their desks.’

Until, as a culture, we accept that we are literally killing our selves to allow people like the subject of this article to exist... well I don’t have a grand point but this is fucked.
posted by Drumhellz at 8:11 AM on December 20, 2020 [8 favorites]


I appreciate philanthropy I really do. Some of this money has gone to organizations in places I used to live and I know those organizations need those funds. So yay on that. But I don't want to live in world where billionaires decide progress through their giving and our elected officials dither and dawdle until the last minute and arrive at a BS 'compromise' only because they want to go home for the holidays.
posted by bluesky43 at 8:35 AM on December 20, 2020 [9 favorites]


She must be having a blast.
posted by theora55 at 8:36 AM on December 20, 2020 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: fuck charity
posted by Nelson at 8:37 AM on December 20, 2020 [22 favorites]


at least she's trying her damnedest. Good for her.

Nah, fuck her still.

fuck charity specially going to higher education



American higher education* is especially dependent on the very rich. Much more so than it used to be.

If we're talking about public higher ed, which is about 2/3rds of the sector,
Starting in the 1980s we decided to reduce state funding to public higher ed. I say "we" because it was, and remains, a clear consensus. Blue states and red, north and south, rich and poor all systematically cut state funding back. This is super clear at the per-student level, because this was exactly the same period we (again, clear consensus) decided to massively increase the amount of post-secondary experience Americans** would get. (This also meant big increases in budgets, since we had to hire more people to make this work, faculty, admin, and support staff.)

To pick one example, here's the former president of my alma mater, the University of Michigan, put it:
As university president I used to explain that during this period we had evolved from a state-supported to a state-assisted to a state-related to a state-located university. In fact, with Michigan campuses now located in Europe and Asia, we remain only a state-molested institution.

So how did we decide to fund public higher ed with reduced state support? Colleges and universities increased tuition and pushed for a massive expansion in student loans. Put another way, US higher ed followed the American macroeconomic trend of financialization. Put still another way, you could say US higher ed followed neoliberalism, pushing campuses into the market and treating academic learning as a private, rather than social good.

At the same time another American macroeconomic trend was racing ahead, escalating income and wealth inequality. From the 80s on we kept generating more and richer rich people.

That became part of public higher ed's business model: recruit students from wealthy families. They can pay "full freight," the published tuition price. That lets campuses charge less to students of lesser means.

The other part is turning campus presidents into full-time fundraisers. Presidents spend most of their hours courting the wealthiest.

So here we are, with privatized public higher ed, pleading and grateful for gifts from the rich, like these from Scott.

To learn more, Chris Newfield's The Great Mistake is the best book. If you prefer video, we hosted him on the Future Trends Forum in 2017. Chris thinks we need a kind of cultural transformation to re-see public higher ed as a public, not private good.

If we're talking about private higher ed, which is about 1/3rd of the sector, it didn't go through that state defunding process, of course. It did follow financialization and becoming ever more dependent on the rich. Which is how they, too, are pleading and grateful for gifts from the rich.

*I'm leaving out the tiny handful of schools with massive endowments. Although they also plead and are grateful for gifts from the rich.
**Americans and others. An underappreciated part of US higher ed's business model has been reliance on international students, especially since around 2000.
posted by doctornemo at 8:44 AM on December 20, 2020 [23 favorites]


You could set it up to keep growing...
Capitalism convinces us that compound interest is a force of nature, and money just "grows" on its own. It doesn't. Money pays the financial system to extract more value from workers and natural resources on its behalf. That is how money "grows". If you gave all the money to poor people or institutions it would still keep growing, but it would grow in their pockets, out of your control, and not be visible or measurable in the same way. People like the model where they create their own institution because it lets them maintain control, and everyone thinks they know best what is good for those other people.
posted by agentofselection at 9:00 AM on December 20, 2020 [5 favorites]


[This is a comment from an anonymous MeFite]
I work for one of the non-profit orgs that was chosen by Mackenzie Scott's research team. For those who aren't steeped in non-profit or charity or philanthropy, there are a few reasons why these donations are remarkable. First, none of us asked for this money. Our CEO got a survey from that research firm back at the beginning of the year, asking about our organization, what we do, how we raise funds, where the funds go, etc., but we get lots of those kinds of surveys and no one thought any more about it. Charitable foundations are always trying to add to their portfolios for their clients. So, no grants were written, no asks were made, no employee spent more than a couple of minutes filling out that survey. That's not usually what happens. We have one full-time grant writer and she actually doesn't have time in the week to write grants for everything we're eligible for. Our development team is laughably small compared to the size of development teams in orgs of similar size. Getting money unasked for is not very common in our line of work. Even less uncommon is getting a gift this large without asking directly for it.

Second, this is an unrestricted gift, meaning we can use it any way we see fit. This is absolutely unheard of for a gift of this size. I can't emphasize that enough: this is just not done. Usually, a gift of this size comes with massive strings attached: name this wing of a building after me, use it only for capital projects, make sure my name is spelled this way and not that way and if you get it wrong you won't see another dime from me ever. We're being trusted to use our best judgement to make sure this gift has the most impact possible in our community. And we will. We're going to use it not for operating expenses (this gift frees up other funds we can now use for that) but to improve the lives of the people we live with and work with and play with. I can't get into specifics because then you might be able to figure out who we are, but this money is going to change lives, I promise you that. It will feed people, it will educate children, it will give opportunities to people who otherwise wouldn't have had them.

Lastly, we aren't being asked to give detailed, incredibly time-consuming reporting on how we spend it. Yes, we will have to account for every penny. But usually that means at least 80 hours of work for our grants writer, tracking down photos and testimonials and filling out the required 20 page reporting memo (just one example from a recent $2,000 grant, I kid you not, it was a ridiculous amount of work for two grand). All we have to do is track the money in our system, which we already do anyway, and basically send an Excel spreadsheet, or the equivalent, back to Ms. Scott's organization. This...this is huge. This is TRUST. It's just not done in philanthropy! She's changing the way large gifts are given! Philanthropy moves glacially slowly. It doesn't like just giving money away with no strings attached, and with trust. But that's what she's doing, and it's likely that this act can change the way philanthropy is done, at least for a segment of the giving population. This is massive change and we are thrilled to be a part of it.

One final thing: initially these gifts were going to be anonymous to the public. There were to be zero press releases, zero announcements. But a number of the recipients made the point that if Ms. Scott publicized it, just a little, we could get so much out of it. And my org already has. A community philanthropist, inspired by Ms. Scott, has already begun talks with my boss about a legacy gift, something she wasn't considering until this gift came through and sort of legitimized us. And it's not like we never publicize what we do in our community! It's just that I think non-profits get ignored a lot or maybe people get tired of being asked to support so many worthy causes. I don't know. All I know is that, because of this gift, we have other gifts in the works that we wouldn't have had otherwise. We're not to thank Ms. Scott in donor reports or anything like that, and we were allowed one local press release of our own to publicize it in our community.

So, by all means, feel whatever you feel about billionaires (I likely share the same sentiments). But recognize that this money will change lives. It will directly change lives.
posted by Anonymous at 9:43 AM on December 20, 2020 [170 favorites]


You'll all be quite pleased to know that in the past year I have given exactly zero cents to anyone except as part of an exchange of goods/services, or a taxation arrangement.

I await my kudos, preferably in-thread.

Thank you, and you are quite welcome.
posted by aramaic at 9:44 AM on December 20, 2020 [2 favorites]


She could always be "doing more" but I didn't give Morgan State (Go Bears!) forty million dollars even though they gave me (literally, I was a white student in a black college and they granted me free tuition as a minority student) an education. It isn't a huge amount of money, as college endowments go, but an unrestricted forty million will SIGNIFICANTLY impact what MSU is able to do for their students and it means a lot to them and to me. And for that, I am grateful. All ya'll can proceed with the vilifying, I'll sit this one out.
posted by which_chick at 10:39 AM on December 20, 2020 [22 favorites]


In conclusion, money is a land of contrasts.
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:20 AM on December 20, 2020 [4 favorites]


So, by all means, feel whatever you feel about billionaires (I likely share the same sentiments). But recognize that this money will change lives. It will directly change lives.

I mean I don't think there's anyone in this thread that would claim that giving away money in these amounts won't change lives. Of course it will directly change lives. That's what money does.

The pushback I feel (and likely part cause for others in here as well, I imagine) results from

a) the fact that society is organized such that life-changing money for deserving organizations is dependent upon the charitable whims of individual rich people

b) the fact that when these rich people deign to change people's lives with money they inevitably reap a PR benefit regardless of if they requested anonymity or not

c) the fact that the PR narrative tends to frame the act as a reduction in the wealth of the individual giving it -- but due to the mathematical realities of that scale of wealth, their worth is almost always massively increased in the aggregate which makes the donations look like damage control

d) the fact that people can both realize that transferring money from super rich capitalists to the people is life changing while also failing to make the next logical step to insisting that we implement this life-changing magic as a policy rather than wait on the whims of an individual

e) the fact that criticism based on all of the above inevitably results in non-super-rich people with opinions doing the PR laundering for the super-rich by writing extensive defenses of the super rich based on the impacts of their donations, usually with some measure of scolding mixed in along the lines of "Yes yes, billionaires are bad and feel free to continue thinking that, but this will change lives which apparently I need to point out because you are so blinded by hatred of the rich that you fail to acknowledge this reality."
posted by lazaruslong at 11:26 AM on December 20, 2020 [19 favorites]


You know, I don’t think there’s anyone in this thread who doesn’t realise that, either. Certainly not me, as the poster. I am not in the habit of making hagiographic posts about billionaires, as my profile will demonstrate. But I felt this was interesting and different and will hopefully serve as a lesson to other billionaires before their dearly hoped-for demise.
posted by adrianhon at 11:31 AM on December 20, 2020 [13 favorites]


Sorry adrianhon - this was in reply to the poster I quoted, not you.
posted by lazaruslong at 11:31 AM on December 20, 2020


We're in a pandemic and people are losing their homes. Unless she is helping those people directly who gives a fucking rats ass?

Hi, my sister works for Morgan State. This $40 million means she gets to keep her job. This is especially important as she is a professional musician and has not had a gig for 10 months and is currently living off of our grandmother's life savings - which my grandmother also needs to live off of.

I'm having a reeeeeeeeal hard time not returning back that "Fuck you very much" right to you guys in this thread who feel that it has to be all or nothing when it comes to billionaire's giving/taxation. People are starving NOW.
posted by chainsofreedom at 11:35 AM on December 20, 2020 [59 favorites]


People like the model where they create their own institution because it lets them maintain control, and everyone thinks they know best what is good for those other people

Interestingly, for some schools, she placed no conditions on how the money was spent.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 11:45 AM on December 20, 2020 [2 favorites]


Also please keep in mind that she didn't just donate to schools. She donated to Easter Seals and food kitchens and community organizers and YMCAs and and and. And as far as I can tell, she placed no conditions on any of the money anywhere.
posted by cooker girl at 11:50 AM on December 20, 2020 [15 favorites]


non-super-rich people with opinions doing the PR laundering for the super-rich

What an insulting thing to say. You imply Anonymous doesn't believe in the mission of their non-profit and is not genuinely communicating the impact of the grant. You know, just doing PR laundering.

I think it's really telling and sad that they felt the need to post anonymously. I mean maybe it was just to preserve the anonymity of their non-profit, but as COD said who would want to wade into this hostile discussion talking about the good of charities and philanthropists?

The simplistic "smash capitalism" stuff on Metafilter is really childish rhetoric. I have no problem with rational discussions of wealth distribution, including confiscatory tax policies. But when the depth of discussion we get here is "fuck charity", well, it's just a waste of time. Meanwhile folks like Anonymous or Scott are having a positive impact in the world, this world, the real one.
posted by Nelson at 11:59 AM on December 20, 2020 [62 favorites]


That was confirmed by Anonymous, their organisation just need to provide accounting records. This is impressive and will hopefully inspire others.

I was going to say something snarky but this thread has had enough of that. If you are so full of anger about injustice please maybe just give these threads a miss rather than coming here. There was a discussion about this over a year ago at this link. Our shared hopes for a better world are real, but they are so fragile. Please, read the room.
posted by Braeburn at 12:02 PM on December 20, 2020 [13 favorites]


OOooh, the pitchforks and firebrands are out already! Surely someone's building a guillotine?

It is conjectured that the reason so many libertarian billionaire sociopaths like Elon Musk are obsessed with going into space is that guillotines don't work in zero gravity
posted by JackFlash at 12:11 PM on December 20, 2020 [5 favorites]


Actuation is easy; you could use magnets or something. It’s the cleanup that’s the hard part.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 12:50 PM on December 20, 2020 [8 favorites]


There are a lot of extremely disingenuous arguments in this thread that are being made by people who are spewing their hatred all over people reading this post and thinking that hurts billionaires, instead of just making the people who read this post miserable.

I wish they wouldn't do that. I can cope with both the harm reduction approach to billionaires (this type of extremely well done philanthropy), and the systemic prevention of billionaires.

But then, my motivation is that I want to live in a better world. If I was motivated by some preening desire to be the best at telling everyone the world was a shithole, then I could write the lazy canned comments that assumed the philanthropy was done badly, and I could spread my bitterness to everyone else here.
posted by ambrosen at 1:17 PM on December 20, 2020 [35 favorites]


Lastly, we aren't being asked to give detailed, incredibly time-consuming reporting on how we spend it.

That one is a real kicker; lots of grants have enormous strings attached that can burn staggering amounts of time on paperwork.

The Gates Foundation (to pick a non-random example) has had spectacularly onerous reporting conditions. I am personally aware of two cases (which were basically contemporaneous, and about ten years ago) where they approached a scientist to receive a grant and, once the reporting requirements were made clear, the scientists both said "nah, thanks but it's not worth it".

...of course, the only reason they could do that is both researchers had HUGE grant streams already in place. A less established/prominent researcher would have had to bend the knee and beg for the precious monies.

Amusingly, I'm told that in both cases the Gates Foundation was quite stunned to have someone decline their largesse. It would have been nice to be listening in on those phone calls. I have often wondered if they changed their requirements as a result, but I'm no longer in that world enough to know.
posted by aramaic at 1:19 PM on December 20, 2020 [15 favorites]


Mod note: Hi folks -- a small mid-course correction. It's totally fine to feel how you feel about extreme wealth and the way it manifests in the world, but please keep your comments here focused on the issue at hand and be decent to your fellow MeFites. If you can't, it's fine to give this thread a pass. Thank you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:29 PM on December 20, 2020 [12 favorites]


I'll sum up my viewpoint. It's nice that someone with money is handing it out. But if it isn't helping to reform systematic injustice, it's no different than Mr Moneybags throwing hundies on his strolls through the slums. Undoubtedly the money will do good. But it's treating symptoms, not causes. I want, instead, to read a story where someone who's got billions of dollars is doing something with those billions of dollars to ensure that people with billions of dollars are no longer a thing that exists.
posted by seanmpuckett at 1:34 PM on December 20, 2020 [4 favorites]


I don't think anyone in this thread disagrees that taxing the rich to a greater degree would be better. However - bringing about the kind of regulations and tax laws and codes that would enable that to take place is going to take quite some time.

So - maybe, just maybe, while we are working towards that future date, we can also support those who make charitable donations, so that that while we are waiting for the system to be changed in the long term, people can still benefit in the meantime?

I mean, who knows how many potential donors might read this pushback and think "well, fuck y'all then, I'll just go buy another Caribbean archipelago"?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:35 PM on December 20, 2020 [17 favorites]


I deal with my cognitive dissonance like this: it's great she's donated the money, but she never should've gotten access to four (and it looks like much much more) billion dollars in the first place.

So yes, thanks for that, but let's tax her and all the other billionaires down to a mere hundreds-of-millions millionaire.

Billionaires shouldn't exist. Pass it on.
posted by zardoz at 1:37 PM on December 20, 2020 [8 favorites]


I teach at a similar institution to those universities that got these grants, but we did not get one. Due to state budget cuts, many our office administrative and student life staff were laid off this summer. A grant like this would have meant those people could have had their jobs back and that our campus would have worked better for our students, for whom very little in this world works well. Regional comprehensive universities that serve mostly minoritized students are really, really suffering right now. These donations will help immensely.
posted by hydropsyche at 3:04 PM on December 20, 2020 [8 favorites]


I mean, who knows how many potential donors might read this pushback and think "well, fuck y'all then, I'll just go buy another Caribbean archipelago"?

I mean, isn't that literally the same rhetoric that gets roundly decried in other threads as 'cookie-seeking'? "If we're not nicer to people with institutional/systemic power, they won't be interested in reforms" gets rejected pretty frequently in other contexts, so I'm not sure what makes it valid here. If anything, we're much more likely to have people drive-by with less rarified power than that.

There's a lot of different streams going on here, and I think focusing on one or another to the exclusion of all else is putting people as shouting past each other.
Is it notable that, per above, she's given out the money to HBCUs who have a history of being ignored? Absolutely.
Is the economic weight of her wealth accumulating faster than it can be spent specifically by profiting off the mass misery of this pandemic? Certainly.
Would it be great if that weren't the case and there were no more billionaires? Definitely.
Would dumping all that wealth into taxes largely go to funding more forever-wars and international death squads? Currently, yeah.
Is it better than the alternative? ... well, that depends very heavily on what "it" you're talking about, and what you're setting up as "the alternative". And therein lies the rub.

Many things in the world are terrible. This is a good thing. But it's a good thing that is fueled by those terrible things. But it can also help keep things going a bit longer, and maybe eventually we can work on undoing some of those more fundamental terrible things. But we also can't mistake that for justifying the terrible things because it led to the good things, etc.
To stop analysis at any one level here is simplifying, but also does a disservice to understanding what's going on.
posted by CrystalDave at 3:04 PM on December 20, 2020 [9 favorites]


I just wanted to poke my head back in and apologize for the tone of my ‘fuck charity’ comment and how it affected the discourse.

That said, to the person a few comments after me that said they were having a hard time not saying ‘fuck you’ back to me because your sibling got some of that charity: I’m not going to apologize for believing in my right to say it, nor am I going to go through performative justification for why I have a right to believe it.

Thanks for the ride Metafilter, I’m buttoning.
posted by Drumhellz at 3:25 PM on December 20, 2020 [1 favorite]


well, that's at least a little performative
posted by philip-random at 5:32 PM on December 20, 2020 [33 favorites]


So given that this thread has become mostly about taxing billionaires: Republicans are going to be the ones spending those tax dollars because they have a structural advantage in Congress

One of the oldest justifications for American philanthropy is that between corruption and pork-barrelling, government money doesn't often go to where it's needed and philanthropy can help paper over that problem. It doesn't make the sea go back, but it sure mattered to that starfish.

You'd have to overhaul America's broken political system for taxation to go to causes that need it.
posted by Merus at 7:19 PM on December 20, 2020 [3 favorites]


between corruption and pork-barrelling, government money doesn't often go to where it's needed

That's not true, and this is a narrative that needs to go away. According to the CBBP, 56 percent of federal taxes in 2019 went to a combination of Social Security (23%), Medicare/Medicaid/CHIP (25%), and other safety net programs like food stamps (8%). Fraud only encompasses a fraction of that sum. The way we spend taxes in the USA should be rightfully criticized, but not with a falsehood.
posted by el gran combo at 8:57 PM on December 20, 2020 [10 favorites]


Sorry for the derail, and I'm trying to be nice about this, but I really hate hearing Social Security and Medicare called "entitlement" or at-need programs, as if people aren't entitled to collect from them. People work their entire lives and pay into them, funding them. Entitlement programs are called that, precisely because people are very exactly entitled to the programs they pay into. The narrative that entitlement is a bad thing also needs to go away.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 9:43 PM on December 20, 2020 [11 favorites]


I don't think, at least on MF or maybe with rich people who don't believe the propaganda by the right, that the corruption being complained about is fraud by SS or Medicare recipients. I think, and it is what I can absolutely see as a justification for going around the government (especially the one of the last four years) is that the corruption is in government contracts going to golfing buddies, lobbyists making things easier for the bigger guys and harder for the smaller ones, lack of efficient use of the funds due to representatives fighting for almost useless projects in their own districts.

Really I think this is one of the best things she can do with the money right now. She could just give a ton of it back to the government, but if you dont want to fund wars or line the pockets of the friends of senators, I do think this is better, especially as she seems to be looking specifically for organizations that have been effective and have an impact.
posted by LizBoBiz at 1:05 AM on December 21, 2020 [2 favorites]


I thought a new comment would be appropriate for my next thought. Right now, we see the existence of billionaires as a bad thing as they are a massive obvious symptom of the larger problem of inequality.

But billionaires and super rich can also exist in a more equitable system as well. The problem is not that she is not personally taxed at a rate that should be higher. Even if she was taxed at 75%, she still could have $15B in personal wealth (I saw somewhere that her total worth was $60B so that's what I used here). She could be taxed at 90% of her current worth and still have $6B right now.

So to me, it is not the existence of billionaires that is the problem. There can still be very rich people, even in a fairly equitable society. I think the problem is the lack of corporate taxation. It allows wealth like this to grow, it causes problems to be pushed onto local communities to fix instead of having businesses actually contribute to society, and causes the need for charitable giving in the first place.

Granted, she did get her wealth from a company that is part of the problem, but I don't know that she wouldn't have been a billionaire if Amazon had always paid its workers fairly, paid taxes, and been a general good corporate citizen.
posted by LizBoBiz at 1:16 AM on December 21, 2020 [2 favorites]


Sure, the past four years have highlighted government corruption and cronyism. Still, unless Jeff, Bill, Jack, and their rich homies are giving 50 percent of what they have directly to charity, they're doing worse than the federal government at taking care of people in need with all that extra money they don't truly need themselves.

The billionaires aren't directly paying to bomb and kill people that look like me overseas so I must concede they have the higher ground there at least.

Mackenzie Scott is doing a great thing with a small fraction of her money and I hope other billionaires follow, but I remain puzzled at efforts to carry water for people who only just barely share the money they made off the backs of their overworked and underpaid employees around the world. I remind you that Amazon is currently fighting to maintain an unsafe workplace environment during the pandemic in order to safeguard their record profits.
posted by el gran combo at 2:09 AM on December 21, 2020 [3 favorites]


Sure, good for Scott for getting on board with unrestricted non-reporting grants, but it's not exactly as ground breaking as that - it's been a movement in philanthropy for a decade at least and the last number I heard was 30% of US foundations give at least some of their funding as unrestricted grants - I know of two reasonably large ones just in Seattle that have given all grants as unrestricted funds with no reporting requirements for years.
posted by bashing rocks together at 2:59 AM on December 21, 2020 [4 favorites]


I haven't done a ton of digging into exactly where the money went, but for those asserting that it could have gone to reforming the tax system: are you so positive it didn't? There are a lot of charities here.
posted by aspersioncast at 1:45 PM on December 22, 2020 [1 favorite]


* stands on chair and whistles *

I think everyone in here is starting to assume the worst about each others' arguments (and I'm including myself in this), so maybe we all need to take a deep breath....
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:51 AM on December 23, 2020 [4 favorites]


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