See, Ozmandias? You should have opted for the school of engineering.
Slate’s article by Jordan Weissmann, its senior business and economics correspondent, about the largest donation ever made to Harvard University is one of those monstrosities that has great value as an ethics test. If you think his argument is reasonable, then you need help.
Essentially, the Slate piece is the ultimate example of an unethical argument I have focused on before, which can be summarized as, “If you give to what you care about rather than what I care about, then your donation is unethical.”
Unless your contribution is to ISIS, or isn’t really a contribution but an attempt to buy access for your own purposes (like with, to pick an example out of the air, a donation to the Clinton Foundation), there is nothing unethical about a $400,000,000 donation, which is what John Paulson just gave to Harvard University’s endowment for the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. The school will be renamed after Paulson, which Weissman also finds repugnant. The title of the piece: “Billionaire’s Ego Donates $400 Million to Harvard.”
Let me pause here to note that I refuse to give my money to Harvard, which solicits me regularly. The university is rich, I’m not, and I prefer to give my charitable gifts to Georgetown Law Center, specifically to the student theatrical organization I founded there, which like all theater groups, needs funds. I am sure Weissman finds my contribution unethical as well, because, really, what good are the arts compared to what he has decreed is worth giving to as the “more pressing causes in the world”? As he sees it, that is, but that’s all that matters.
Let me go through Weissman’s many objections that cause him to sneer at Paulson’s charity:
1. “Gestures to Ivy League schools …inevitably have as much to do with the giver’s ego as their sense of altruism.” Yes, and so do almost all philanthropic donations, regardless of source and objective. The motto in fundraising (I was a professional fundraiser for a decade) is that donors give money for their purposes, not yours. People who give a lot of money to good causes like to have some recognition, and they deserve it. Apparently Weissman believes that the only ethical donations are anonymous ones, because that’s modest. I’m impressed by anonymous gifts, though they often have selfish motivations as well: the donors don’t want to be hounded by more fundraisers. Nevertheless, that lack of modesty is so trivial as a flaw in large charitable contributions that to harp on it is perverse. Successful people tend to have egos that are often in proportion to their accomplishments. The construct of the left is, we know, that accomplishments and success are just randomly distributed fruits of privilege, ergo the self-esteem that often results from such success is as unsavory as the privilege that generates it.
This is, to be blunt, un-American crap.
2. Harvard “does not strictly need more money, especially compared to the financially strapped colleges that typically educate lower-income students.” First of all, this is demonstrably false. Harvard does need more money if it is going to expand and improve its School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, secure that school’s financial health in perpetuity, and do so without sacrificing other objectives it deems important. Harvard also educates lower-income students, the best and brightest of them, and thus the best resources money can buy are expended on the students most likely to make the best use of them for the benefit of society. Weissman believes this is wrong, and that the 400,000,000 should be given to lesser schools, with less of a track record of spending money wisely, while educating less promising students.
I am in sympathy with that argument to some extent. The marginal utility of all that money is less at Harvard than anywhere else, and I can envision the donation having a far more sweeping impact elsewhere: giving it to Sweet Briar, for example. That does not mean there is anything wrong in any way with bolstering Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. The donation is an unequivocal, absolute good.
The money could have been spent “better”? That’s your opinion. It’s not your money. Shut up. Continue reading →
I don’t think this is the same “Theodoric of York” who authored this excellent “Comment of the Day”…at least I hope it isn’t.
The heat/ light ratio in the comments to the post about the controversial sentencing of a 16-year-old scofflaw in Texas has been depressing, but among the rational, measured, well-considered and thought-provoking responses by those who actually read the post, this one, by new commenter Theodoric of York, is a winner. His politeness is especially appreciated among all the posts calling me names that would shock my mother. I hope he comes again, and often.
I’ll have some further comments after he’s had his say. Meanwhile, here is Theodoric of York’s Comment or the Day on the post Ethics Observations on the “Affluenza” Sentence.