The Art of Giving | Modern philanthropy. Covid-19: The great leveler?

Lurdes de Sousa

“Tax us. Immediately. Substantially. Permanently.”

A group of more than 80 of the world’s richest people, who call themselves the “Millionaires for Humanity” and include Jerry Greenfield, co-founder of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, and Disney heir Abigail Disney, have addressed an open letter in which they call upon governments for taxation. “It is the right choice. It is the only choice” they stress. They are the millionaires who actually want to pay more money to help pay for the billions of people in new government programs made necessary by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“No, we are not the ones caring for the sick in intensive care wards. We are not driving the ambulances that will bring the ill to hospitals. We are not restocking grocery store shelves or delivering food door to door” the millionaires for humanity write, but “we do have money, lots of it. Money that is desperately needed now and will continue to be needed in the years ahead, as our world recovers from this crisis” they stress in their open letter plea for greater and immediate wealth taxation.
It is not the first time in this century that millionaire philanthropists, in an organized and symbolic action, have called for wealth distribution. Just 10 years ago, in 2010, the “Giving Pledge” concept launched to invite the wealthiest people to publicly commit to give the majority of their wealth to philanthropy. This set the tone for 21st century philanthropy, but this time Covid-19 has brought a new focus on the urgent necessity to concentrate on the reduction of inequality divide. It may be the opportunity of the century. It is a matter of civilization.
Historian Walter Scheidel, in his major contribution to the study of the history of inequality through the exhaustive research of the relationship between violence and inequality, interestingly explains that, throughout history, significant reductions in material inequality have resulted from four different kinds of violent ruptures; wars, revolutions, state failures and pandemics. In the absence of such violent ruptures, the historian claims that inequalities tend to rise. With the example of the Black Death (1340’s) and using Malthusian economics, Scheidel highlights how high mortality rates brought labor scarcity which ultimately resulted in higher wages complemented by the fragmentation of property among the wealthy and chaos in the political system that significantly led to the reduction of inequalities.
Violent historical happenings such as wars or plagues have proven, from the stone age to the present day, to be great levelers. Although we are told that it is not proven that a sudden infectious disease would reshuffle the distribution of wealth and income as it has previously done in the agrarian era, what we must hope for, be it inspired by the millionaires for humanity or other philanthropists’ movements, is that when historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, they say it was our generation who rose by lifting others.

*President, Associação Internacional
de Filantropia (Macau)
國際博愛協會 (澳門)

Macau Daily Times is the official media partner of the Associação Internacional de Filantropia (Macau).

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