A guest lecturer at Harvard University told students that philanthropy is inherently problematic, calling generosity the “wingman of systems of injustice.”
Anand Giridharadas, author of Winner Takes All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, spoke at the Harvard Institute of Politics in November. Giridharadas began his speech by noting that the venue, named for John F. Kennedy Jr. “may be the only space at Harvard not named after a random rich guy who gave a lot of money,” and joking that it would soon be named after Jeffrey Epstein.
Almost all the rest of the spaces at Harvard, he lamented, are named after large donors to Harvard. He went on to observe that “hyper-rich” people are always doing “everything they could to change the world,” and asked, “Why is this happening?”
Giridharadas explained that the more an individual or entity is harming the public, the more it will advertise what they are doing to help the community. Harvard, he claims, is enabling this flaw within society by accepting money from countless donors without looking into where the money comes from.
“What if all the generosity is the wingman of systems of injustice?” asked Giridharadas, before going on to explain to the students that the only way the millionaires and billionaires are able to exist is because of the “surplus virtue” created by positive entities like charities and universities. He explains that bad people have a moral “virtue deficit,” which causes them to “make a trade” with entities that hold “surplus virtue” in order to keep their name clean.
He argues that the main motivation for donating to organizations is that it allows the wealthy to clean up their reputation with good deeds enough for people to overlook their misdeeds.
In a recent tweet, Giridharadas claimed that “Billionaires are like Bruce Wayne, causing societal problems through their companies by day — then wearing Batman costumes to solve them philanthropically by night.”
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