Saturday, March 26, 2016

What A Billionaire Deserves

George Soros

- Do you remember, it's in one of your stories of fantasy, the billionaire test?
- "Who's Got A Billion To Spare?"
- Yes. The answer is, thousands of people do. You wrote: 1 million children are starving to death each year in the world. To immediately save lives one thousand dollars will airlift enough food for a year for each. One billion dollars will save a million lives.
- Yes. A calculation. You don't mean to say someone came up with the money?
- I do mean to say.

That is from a science fiction story. In reality the billionaire holds onto his money and lets the children starve. Isn't it a crime to allow, when you easily could stop it, a million human beings to die? The billionaire responds, 'What good would it do? With my billion dollars they'd live and have more children, and there'd be more starving. I would be creating more suffering.'

When a billionaire gives away money, and many make a part or full time job of it, it is usually to institutions that embody knowledge of one kind or another: universities, think tanks, medical organizations.

To save people just to save them: Why?

Let's continue the science fiction conversation:
- The argument is wrong. It assumes starvation was the result of ignorance. Not from drought, or industrial over-harvesting, or war, or economic disruption of cheap imports, assumes that for example the poor couldn't be given places to live and land to grow their own food.* It is a plausible model that happens to be wrong.** But even if it were right...
- Yes?
- It would still be wrong. A model wrongly applied. Why should anyone require for saving someone's life that they be living wisely?
- People don't like to encourage mistakes.
- Yes, because social life is a kind of collective art. But art is not the purpose of life, only a tool for making life better. If there is no life, there is no art. The billionaire imagines that the act of saving a millions lives would be a demoralizing example in his own world.
- But that is true, isn't it?
- No. There is nothing more demoralizing than forgetting that money serves life, not life serves money. Letting a million children die, which every billionaire on the planet does every year, is making it plain that, for them, life serves money.
In the science fiction story a billionaire comes across with the money to finance - can you believe it? - a revolution against life serving money. It's only a story, a comic book without pictures. You can read it Here. Before you go, turn your attention once more to the couple thousand billionaires among us and consider what, in a just world, the proper punishment would be for their neglecting to do what they easily could do and letting a million human beings die every year.

Further Reading:
The Billionaire
The Character Of Donald Trump
* On land use see this Reuter's article
** On philanthropy see:  "The Self-Help Myth: How Philanthropy Fails to Alleviate Poverty", December 2015, University Of California Press, Erica Kohl-Arenas.  See also: The top 26 billionaires own $1.4 trillion — as much as 3.8 billion other people.