Jeff Bezos the US is also strongly committed to small government?

Philanthropy is the noble pursuit of the wealthy and famous. What is the alternative?

Sam Bankman-Fried, an American bitcoin wunderkind, was one of the leaders in a new movement called “Effective Altruism” or EA.

EA supporters prefer to invest their money in tech and finance, rather than working for charity. Then they give it to charity. The cryptocurrency exchange FTX, run by Bankman-Fried, was closed earlier this month.

His riches disappeared overnight – he was worth $10.5bn (PS8.68bn on paper) or in evanescent code. His creditors are not congratulating themselves for their altruism but are out of pocket by as high as $8bn.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos declared that he will give “most of his fortune away” during his lifetime. This is a generous gesture for a man whose net worth is $117.5bn, according to Forbes. According to the same source, he has already given away $2.4bn during his working life.

It is unclear how Bezos will fulfill his promise. He has not signed the Giving Pledge by Bill Gates or Warren Buffet, which is a scheme to convince super-rich people to donate their most assets to charity.

Critics have also pointed out that Bezos isn’t unconnected with his tax record. Amazon in the UK pays tax on profits, but not sales. Last year, Amazon paid PS492m direct tax to Customs and Revenue on a staggering PS20.63bn.

Amazon employees in all territories around the world staged walkouts on Black Friday after being accused of low wages, poor working conditions and other issues.

Bezos and Bankman-Fried have attracted a lot of attention for their statements on philanthropy. This contrasts with the awkward silence that surrounds this subject on the other side of the Atlantic.

British people are reluctant to talk about their charitable efforts. Even the modest-brag that “I don’t like to talk to my charity work” can cause a rash of self-deprecating circles to spit on them. Or so we tell ourselves.

A new type of philanthropist in the UK has emerged over the past few years: the activist sports star or musician. For his fight against food poverty, Marcus Rashford was the top-ranked footballer on Sunday Times Giving List 2021. Other notable donors included Lewis Hamilton, Mo Salah, and Stormzy.

However, differences in attitudes towards philanthropy between the UK and US can be explained by aspects of culture and tax. According to the National Philanthropic Trus in the States, $484.85bn was donated to charity by Americans in 2021.

According to the Charities Aid Foundation, PS10.7 billion was donated by Britons. While the US has approximately five times the US population, the Americans give 45 percent more.

“Rich Americans in America have expectations that people who are financially secure will give some, or a lot away,” Dr Beth Breeze, Director of the Centre for Philanthropy of the University of Kent.

She said that success in America is not measured by how much money an individual makes, but by how generous they are with their time.

It’s not about being the richest or the most charitable, as Bill Gates (who topped both lists for many decades) exemplifies. In the UK, such expectations are not yet present. While philanthropic people might be praised here, the wealthy non-philanthropic ones are not often under any social pressures to emulate their generous peers.”

According to Dr Breeze the US is the most advanced country in fundraising. Highly skilled campaigners have built long-lasting relationships with donors who are able to give large gifts.

Bezos is raised in a culture that values giving, she says. His ex-wife MacKenzie Scott, a prominent contemporary philanthropist, is also admired.

“The only surprise is the fact that this combination has not led him to promise to give it all away sooner.”

  • Sir Chris Hohn, a hedge fund manager, donates hundreds of millions to the environment and children’s healthcare
  • Alan Parker, a businessman, also puts emphasis on safety and the environment for children.
  • Sir Paul Marshall, an investor, donates to inner-city education.
  • Lord Edmiston, a motor entrepreneur, founded a large Christian charity
  • Lewis Hamilton, a racing driver, donates millions of dollars to youth opportunities

The largest beneficiary group from American Philanthropy is the Churches. This is due to the insistence of the founding fathers that religious communities be free and independent from the state. According to the NPT, faith organisations received 27% in donations in 2021.

The US is also strongly committed to small government. Comparable to Europe, taxes and spending are lower. This is offset by the tradition of “noblesse oblige”, which has been practiced by America’s most wealthy dynasties. This is evident in the case of art. Without the generosity of private donors, the great museums and galleries in the US would be virtually empty. In the UK, wealthy people often leave their photographs to the country to avoid death duties.

You don’t need to look far back in British history to see a pattern in philanthropy that is at least as important in shaping society today as gifting by billionaires.

Instead of tech tycoons distributing their wealth, it was British pioneers of the industrial revolution who signed the cheques. They acted from self-consciously Godly motives much like many American benefactors today.

Titus Salt was a great textile baron and built schools and homes for his Yorkshire workers in the 19th century. His new town was even named after him – Saltaire. He declared that it would not contain alcohol. This was in keeping with his nonconformist beliefs. However, it also meant that fewer days would be lost for drink-related injuries and illnesses.

The Lever Brothers, who were making soap powder on Merseyside, followed Salt’s lead. To house their workers, they built a garden community and named it Port Sunlight. This was apparently not an ironic comment on the local rainy climate. The Levers allowed a pub to be built among the Port Sunlight tied houses, but it was not permitted to serve alcohol.

Jonathan Ruffer, a religious-minded City trader, who has spent millions of his own money in his native north-east England is a throwback back to the God-fearing Victorian grandees.

Ruffer is the investor behind Kynren, a breathtaking pageant that showcases British history. It is held in Ruffer’s home (the former palace of Bishops of Auckland) to raise funds for the region. According to reports, Ruffer’s generousity is worth PS50,000 per day to Bishop Auckland’s deprived community.

It seems that there is little to no connection between the mutton-chopped worthies, who created places like Saltaire or Bournville, and the tech bros in Silicon Valley.

However, creating state-of the-art accommodations for workers and surrounding it in recreational facilities while avoiding the scourge alcohol is not a Silicon Valley strategy.


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