It’s time to gore another collectivist sacred cow. This time it’s the popular idea that the successful are obliged to “give back to the community.” That oft-heard claim assumes that the wealth of high-earners is taken away from “the community.” And beneath that lies the perverted Marxist notion that wealth is accumulated by “exploiting” people, not by creating value–as if Henry Ford was not necessary for Fords to roll off the (non-existent) assembly lines and Steve Jobs was not necessary for iPhones and iPads to spring into existence.
But he’s wrong.
In my review of Laurence Leamer’s Madness Under the Royal Palms: Love and Death Behind the Gates of Palm Beach, I made the following statement:
Through his characters we see the various aspects of life in Palm Beach: the houses, the Worth Avenue shopping, and the charity balls. These last are not to be underestimated; they define both the season in general and those who attend them. They are part of the race to the top that Leamer likens to a greyhound race (an analogy I used in my piece Running Rusty.) Although these have doubtless raised money for worthy causes, the whole spectacle of the things tends to sour the long-term observer to charitable giving as a whole, which is something else that’s hard to explain outside of Palm Beach. But perhaps the sincerity of the givers and guests should not be underestimated. Leamer’s epilogue is the aftermath of the collapse of Bernie Madoff’s scheme, which drained funds from both the Palm Beach Country Club and a good portion of its membership. In the wake of that collapse, one lament many of his Jewish victims made was that they were no longer able to give to charity, something that struck me as heartfelt.
To this, fellow Palm Beacher and Anglican chronicler George Conger replied as follows: “I was also taught that to those who have been given much, much is to be expected.” That, of course, is an allusion to Luke 12:48. It’s no secret that starting out in a place like this and the many other upper echelon communities gives a head start to people, and it’s also no secret (especially if you grow up in a place like that) that success, as much a product of hard work and organisation as it is, is also a product of being in the “right” place at the right time.
Irrespective of the sour taste that the charity/social system in Palm Beach left, giving back in one way or another is part of one’s Christian obligation. (I’ll leave it to my Jewish readers to make the case in Judaism). There’s no getting around it. Binswanger is flat wrong is asserting that “giving back” is a Marxist concept; it’s not. Marxism, among other things, seeks to eliminate charity and ultimately having any one have anything to give back by levelling society through social evolution into the dictatorship of the proletariat, something no “Marxist” state has ever pulled off.
I don’t see a society based on any secular principles–left or right, as is the case with Objectivist Binswanger–doing anything other than Marxism purports to do in “encouraging” people to give back, i.e., prevent it. Parading it in front of people–and forcing them to do it as one sees in resume enhancing “charity”–isn’t going to make more people generous. It’s something that has to come from above and be voluntarily accepted, and as our society turns more and more away from that, the giving back will become all the scarcer.