Rich and good? The dark cabal of philanthrocapitalism (original title of book: Ricchi e buoni? Il volto oscuro della filantropia globale. Currently only available in the Italian Language here.) by Nicoletta Dentico, journalist, global health expert. Director of Banca Popolare Etica. She is married and has three children. Most recently Nicoletta was also a candidate for Green Europe in the European elections of 26/5/2019. More information here.
A well-documented book-investigation on why Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Bill Clinton and Mark Zuckerberg are the protagonists of a new mega philanthropy. The ambiguous role of Bill Gates and the anti-Covid19 vaccine.
Why are the elite 1% of the planet, the most predatory class in our human history, yet also the most socially committed to supporting noble causes such as health, education, the fight against famine, with the excuse of changing the world? What lies behind this revivification of global philanthropy? Is the ever more pervasive commitment of philanthropists really the solution to our contemporary global challenges or is it not rather a Delphic and problematical effect of the systematic inequalities that make this, in our age, the most inequitable of all time? What exactly is “philanthrocapitalism”, it’s an even greater and elaborate version of the type of philanthropy that has dominated the international scene for the last two decades and which today, at the time of Covid19 are consolidated?
These are the questions that the journalist Nicoletta Dentico, an expert in global health and international cooperation, faced in her Herculean essay-investigation Ricchi e buona (Rich and good)? The dark cabal of philanthrocapitalism (Editrice missionaria Italiana, pp. 288, euro 20, already in bookstores). This is the first book in Italy dedicated to the topic of philanthrocapitalism, a clever strategy inaugurated at the beginning of the new millennium by a small class of winners on the scene of economic and financial globalisation. Thanks to the donations made through their foundations in the name of the fight against poverty, these entrepreneurs, the new white saviours, have begun to exert an increasingly uncontrolled influence on the world’s governing mechanisms and their institutions, modifying them profoundly. All this in an interweaving of money, power and alliances with the business sector that governments no longer know how to contain and can no longer control. Indeed, it is our leaders within the political realms whom welcomed wealthy philanthropists with open arms, and now, they don’t even bother to ask questions anymore.
As in the past with John Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie, the generosity of those who have accumulated Brobdingnagian riches may not be completely selfless. “The 2016 Wealth-X and Arton Capital Philantrophy Report highlights how super-rich donations increased by 3% in 2015,” Dentico wrote. “Numbers in hand, the report recounts the beneficial effects of this art of generosity: entrepreneurs who paid in at least a million dollars ended up amassing more profits than their class peers.”
This reality of constant accumulation feeds the win-win optimism which in turn feeds the philanthropic phenomenon, whose values, tools and methods are unequivocally those of a business culture, applied to a world of unfulfilled human needs. Philanthropists, by their own admission, aim to create new markets for the poor. «It works like this: if the poor become consumers they will no longer be marginalised. And as customers they can regain their dignity ». Compared to classical philanthropy, philanthrocapitalism has assumed such pervasive and systemic dimensions as to condition the very action of states: “Free from any territorial constraint, philanthrocapitalist foundations have managed to occupy a boundless field of action“, the book reads. “They play a cumbersome role in the production of knowledge, in the affirmation of models, in the definition of new structures of global governance“.
“The amniotic fluid of philanthropy is inequality,” says Nicoletta Dentico, who in her robust investigation carefully explains the reasons why this elite has taken the lead in the battle to change the world. Instead of, “if there were a fair distribution of resources in the world, there would not be much room for philanthropy“, because there would no longer be the few plutocrats who hold more than half of the planet’s resources. Dentico highlights one of the most contentious and self-contradictory aspects of this phenomenon: the gargantuan tax benefits enjoyed by these philanthropists and foundations in our world, even those that are the most opulent: “What politically legitimises the idea of a tax incentive for these billionaires and their foundations? What advantages would a company have if the public treasury, lost due to incentives, were used instead to produce for the common good?”
Philanthrocapitalism thus becomes an anomalous form of moral legitimacy, an “escape valve”so to speak, through which the profits often accumulated with shameless machinations of tax avoidance or evasion can be re-invested with tax relief. An example for us all: “In 2012, a report by the US Senate estimated the amount of money that Microsoft had managed to steal through the use of tax havens in a period of three years at almost $ 21 billion, roughly the equivalent of half the net proceeds from retail sales in the United States, with a fiscal gain of $ 4.5 billion annually.” Today the founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates, surpasses all others as and most iconic figure in philanthrocapitalism, with a foundation named after him and his wife Melinda who at the time of birth (2000) had $ 15.5 billion to exercise his action, focused upon health and vaccinations, biotechnology, increasing agricultural productivity in Africa (which means making way for GMOs), education and finance. The Gates Foundation maintains a strong financial link with companies that are not very ethical in terms of consumption, wealth and health, however they do guarantee safe returns on investments made: for example, investing $466 million in Coca-Cola plants and $837 million in Walmart, the largest food, drug and alcohol chain within the USA.
The Gates Foundation stands out today for its mind-boggling activism with which it directs its international activities in the search for an anti-coronavirus vaccine, with non-trivial implications given the public relevance of a global emergency such as that of Covid-19: “In 2015, Gates he understood that a very contagious virus would come to disrupt the hyper-globalised world. Sars-CoV-2 has finally arrived, and the world had been completely unprepared. The only one ready for such a scenario was the philanthropic monopolist of Seattle“, explains Dentico: $300 million immediately on the plate by the Gates Foundation (which then rose to $530 million), now accredited on the scene of the fight against the pandemic on a par with international institutions such as WHO, the World Bank and the European Commission, a dangerous precedent in the governance of global phenomena – as in this case with the fight against a pandemic. All the more so since “in all these years, Bill Gates has contributed a lot to the geopolitical strengthening of Big Pharma [the cartel made up of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies, ed], eroding and stealing ground from civil society in this tough political conflict“.
Nicoletta Dentico’s relentless and laudatory investigation also examines the philanthropic action of other figures such as the plutocratic entrepreneurs or very powerful politicians who’ve suddenly become global “benefactors”: Ted Turner, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and newcomers to the philanthropy scene like Mark Zuckerberg. Unique in this genesis is the case of the Clinton family, which made global philanthropy – through the Clinton Foundation – the main way to continue exercising power after two presidential terms, even at the cost of contradicting and damaging the US diplomatic agenda, at a moment when Hillary Clinton was the Obama administration’s Secretary of State. Very eloquent in this regard is the case of the very powerful businessman Frank Giustra who enters the mining business in Kazakhstan thanks to the good offices of the Clinton Foundation in the Central Asian country, which the United States has condemned for their systematic violations of human rights, and the fundamental freedoms of the person.
As Bandana Shiva writes within the preface of the book, «Nicoletta Dentico’s book arrives at the right moment, and it is necessary. It will be an important compass to defend our lives and freedom from the forms of recolonisation variously endorsed by philanthrocapitalism ».
THE NUMBERS AND FIGURES FROM RICH AND GOOD?
Fight against poverty? 1% of GDP is enough (and fewer weapons)
«I learned to be wary of the woody narrative about the ‘fight against poverty’. A fraction of what is spent on weapons, just over 1% of the world’s gross domestic product, would be enough to reverse the trend. (p. 21)
The golden age of philanthropic foundations: a suspicious rebirth in times of inequality
“There are over 200,000 foundations in the world. There are 87,142 entities registered in the USA. About 85,000 in Western Europe, and about 35,000 in Eastern Europe. There are about 10,000 foundations in Mexico, at least 1000 in Brazil and 2000 in China ”. (p. 57)
Bill Gates counts more than the UN (in terms of money)
“Since its inception, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has mobilised a total amount of funding of $ 50.1 billion and a disbursement capacity in 2018 of $ 5 billion. Between 2013 and 2015, the Gates Foundation was able to allocate 11.6 billion dollars to global development, more than the United Nations agencies can do ”. (p. 59)
Gates funds WHO 24 times more than what the BRICS do!
[BRICS is the acronym coined to associate five major emerging national economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. Ed.] “In the two-year period 2010-11, the Gates Foundation paid over $ 446 million to WHO, more than any other state taxpayer after the United States: a figure 24 times higher than the contributions made by Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. together”. (p. 156)
If the rich pay less taxes than the most marginalised social groups
“The research by economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman shows that the 400 richest families in America paid an effective tax rate of 23% in 2018, that is a percentage point less than that paid by the families of the poorest social groups (24.2%)”. (p. 98)
To pay taxes? No! (not for the super rich)
“In one year, the number of mega-companies that have not paid taxes has simply doubled thanks to the radical fiscal policies of the Trump administration for the benefit of the rich and private companies. There are 60 at the end of 2019. Among the tax-free titans are Amazon, Netflix, IBM, Chevron, Ely Lilly, Delta Airlines, General Motors and Goodyear ». (p. 99)
Bill Clinton’s “podium economy”
“The profession of lecturer marks the fortune of the very skilled speaker who, freed from the White House, began to beat the circuit of the most prestigious international events with astounding financial results: 105.5 million dollars raised for himself in ten years, from 2002 to 2012 “. (p. 230)
Zuckerberg, the very generous one who doesn’t pay taxes
“Inspired by the birth of their first daughter, the couple Mark and Priscilla Zuckeberg communicated the establishment of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, a brand new foundation with which they committed themselves to allocating no less than 99% of the wealth accumulated over the course of their lives to charities – about $ 45 billion, at Facebook’s current value. […] Zuckerberg’s group had an average tax rate of 1% in non-EU countries in which it operated “. (p. 265)
Nicoletta Dentico, journalist, is an expert in international cooperation and global health. After a long experience with Mani Tese, he coordinated the Campaign for the ban of mines in Italy, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997, and directed in Italy Doctors Without Borders (MSF) – Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1999 – with a leading role in the launch and promotion of the international Campaign for Access to Essential Drugs. Co-founder of the Italian Observatory on Global Health (OISG), she worked in Geneva for Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi) and then for the World Health Organization (WHO). More recently she was responsible for the international section of the Lelio Basso Foundation for some years. From 2013 to 2019 she was a member of the board of directors of Banca Popolare Etica and vice president of the Ethical Finance Foundation. Since the end of 2019 he has headed the Society for International Development (SID) global health program.
The term ‘philanthrocapitalism’ was coined in a 2006 article in The Economist and has been studied most comprehensively by Matthew Bishop and Michael Green in their book entitled Philanthrocapitalism: how giving can save the world. The term describes the way in which new charitable actors – including wealthy individuals and their (family) foundations or corporate foundations – systematically apply business tools and market-based approaches to their charitable activities.
See https://www.economist.com/special-report/2006/02/23/the-birth-of-philanthrocapitalism and Bishop/Green (2009).