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Why regime charity poses a big problem

Why regime charity poses a big problem
Photo by Katt Yukawa / Unsplash

MacKenzie Scott, the ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, recently announced her intention to engage in another round of philanthropy by donating $640 million to charity. Of the $60 billion she received after splitting with her husband, Scott has already given over $16 billion to various nonprofit organizations.

To most people the idea of even possessing, much less donating, that kind of money is unthinkable, and Scott is certainly distributing the funds with the intention of making the world a better place. The problem is with the kind of world the organizations Scott supports are trying to build. The billionaire divorcee is steadily feeding a giant stream of cash into the progressive nonprofit complex ensuring that money funds highly influential organizations that will shape opinion and policy in the United States.

Charity is not a universal value throughout history, and the idea of giving to those outside your kin is mostly a Christian one. Other religions, such as Islam, encourage giving to the poor, but in the West that tradition is not linked to ancient Greece or Rome but to the teachings of Christ.

At one point charity was a very personal affair. You gave directly to those in need or to an organization in which you were an active participant like a church. The gift was particular to your community, and you knew the people it helped.

As society expanded and become more homogenized, this work was mostly handed over to large bureaucracies that were no longer accountable to specific individuals or communities. People who wanted to feel good about fulfilling the Christian impulse for charitable giving but could not be bothered to participate in a community with those in need could instead donate to a third party that would touch the unclean for them.

This separation between the giver, the organization, and the community it served introduced the principal-agent problem. The principal-agent problem arises because whenever a separate agent or group of agents are employed to work on your behalf, they invariably develop their own interests that have little to do with the task they were hired to perform. Anyone who has attempted to resolve a problem with a large corporation by calling its customer service center recognizes this phenomenon. As the number of bureaucratic layers increases, the ability to hold individual actors accountable and achieve results goes down.

Due to the residual Christian ethos of our society, charitable organizations are often treated as highly moral enterprises, which gives them a great deal of social and financial capital, and without direct individual or community accountability, the power stored in these organizations was up for grabs. The intermediaries managing these organizations became less and less interested in the stated purpose of the institutions and instead became obsessed with growing the power and size of the charity, which in turn increased their own power and importance.

The best way for these managers to grow their prestige and influence was to align themselves with the direction of the political zeitgeist. Adopting progressive political agendas allowed individual managers the ability to outflank their internecine rivals in the battle for power and make their organizations into critical nodes in the wider regime.

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