John D. Rockefeller was a controversial man who swam in scandals. Despite the fact that he was cruel in business and bullied his way to become the richest person in history, he also got to be remembered as one of the most important philanthropists the world has seen. Andrew Carnegie, another man who certainly had his share of controversies while amassing his fortune, gave all his money away – close to 5 billion in today’s value. Wal-Mart, which makes money on spreading global grand scale consumerism all around the world, gave close to 350 million dollars in 2011 alone. Ray Kroc who started the fast food company McDonald supported research and treatment of alcoholism, diabetes, and other diseases. His third wife, Joan donated 225 million to National Public Radio. In 2011 J.P.Morgan gave 203 million, 10% more than in the previous year while Exxon gave 233 million, an increase of 17%. Margaret A. Cargill, from the Cargill family, known for their numerous scandals over environmental issues, contamination, and human rights abuses, gave away more than $200 million to the American Red Cross, the Nature Conservancy, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian and others while she was alive. After her death, all of her assets were liquidated and transformed into a 6 billion charitable trust and foundation. Khalid bin Sultan, the deputy minister of Defense and a member of the House of Saud of Saudi Arabia, who was involved in the Yemen bombing of 2009, is also using his personal yacht and fortune for coral reef research through his Living Oceans Foundation. Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, who has had his share of public scandals, was a critical founding member of WWF. More recently, John Paulson, a New Yorker infamous for his investments and losses, gave the Central Park Conservancy 100 million.
Nobody gets to build a fortune by being a gentle person. You don’t amass billions by being friendly and by playing by the rules. No one does. Philanthropy and sponsorship are products of the capitalist system. In social democratic countries like the one I grew up in, Canada, or in Europe, people pay a lot of taxes and it is the government that funds. There is a reason why the United States of America is a hotbed for innovation, technology, arts, and education. Elsewhere in the world, organizations and foundations struggle, entrepreneurship is tedious and extremely complicated, why? A lot has to do with the tax code, deductible donations and the psychology behind making money. Look at this list of the most notable philanthropists in the world and you will see that most are from the USA. No other country in the world gives as much as America. Yet no other country in the world consumes as much and has had as many involvements with wars than America.
Bob Marley once said, “Who are you to judge the life I live? I know I’m not perfect – and I don’t live to be – but before you start pointing fingers make sure your hands are clean!” Everybody has had their share of mistakes and has tasted the fruit of greed. No one can judge on the past, and certainly not when a person tries to leave a legacy that will benefit the lives of millions. Yes, maybe the desire for salvation might come through guilt, but so what! How many do you know who will walk that path of redemption? It takes a lot of courage to give money. Whether it is through fiscal loopholes, or to avoid taxes, donations are donations and they are the reason why so much good work is done at the other end.
Even we – explorers, conservationists, and environmentalists – have to deal with this reality. Our funds come from the same companies we often reprimand. Yet, it is the dance we all have to do, so that we can bring a balance. The companies know that and so do we.
I lift my hat to Paulson for donating such a large sum to Central Park. That money could have easily been kept in a secret account in a tax haven or invested in real estate. Instead, it will be put to the good of society.
“Man does not live by bread alone. I have known millionaires starving for lack of the nutriment, which alone can sustain all that, is human in man, and I know workmen, and many so-called poor men, who revel in luxuries beyond the power of those millionaires to reach. It is the mind that makes the body rich. There is no class so pitiably wretched as that which possesses money and nothing else. Money can only be the useful drudge of things immeasurably higher than itself. Exalted beyond this, as it sometimes is, it remains Caliban still and still plays the beast. My aspirations take a higher flight. Mine be it to have contributed to the enlightenment and the joys of the mind, to the things of the spirit, to all that tends to bring into the lives of the toilers of Pittsburgh sweetness and light. I hold this the noblest possible use of wealth.” Andrew Carnegie