Conscience Laundering

Here in our small California community, over 300 non-profits try to provide what the government cannot.

I thought this was good and hoped the larger problems of the world might be solved the same way—until I read Peter Buffett’s editorial in the New York Times. I’ll quote a little of what he says, but read the whole piece.

Peter Buffett

Peter’s father is Warren Buffett and he heads a Foundation his father funded. This means he attends philanthropy meetings with heads of state, investment managers and corporate leaders.

“All,” he writes, “are searching for answers with their right hand to problems that others in the room have created with their left.”(my italics)

As inequality rises, philanthropy grows. In the minds of the rich, “giving back is the best way to  level the playing field.”

“Lives and communities are destroyed,” Buffett says, “by the system that creates vast amounts of wealth for the few,” who then ‘conscience launder’. They “feel better about accumulating more than any one person could possibly need to live on by sprinkling a little around in an act of charity.”

“But this just keeps the existing structure of inequality in place. The rich sleep better at night, while others get just enough to keep the pot from boiling over.”

(Pot boiling over—that’s when the have-nots come after the haves with pitchforks and the gates around the gated-communities are no longer high enough.)

“Nearly every time someone feels better by doing good, on the other side of the world (or street), someone else is further locked into a system that will not allow…the opportunity to live a joyful and fulfilled life.

Buffett says what we need is systemic change, a new code. He quotes Einstein: you cannot solve a problem with the same mindset that created it.

We’re creating a perpetual poverty machine.


Check it out.

America's Poor Kids

5 responses »

  1. I agree. One solution is to tax the rich more (at one time the top tax rate exceeded 90%) and make education free for all.

  2. Great and provocative post. All too often I feel like a silent coconspirator as if my willingness to compensate for unbalance seems like I approve of it. I don’t and more of us need to not tolerate it.

    • At the very least, Annie, one can sign petitions. I used to be more active myself, but things that were going on were making me so crazy (and ill from the stress) and I felt so helpless that I just walked away. One does what one can do.

      Sometimes, hearing a daft viewpoint from a friend, you can just ask that person to explain why they feel that way. Recent research has shown that when people are asked to explain WHY they have extreme beliefs, the mere act of considering their own opinions and explaining them to someone else moderates those beliefs. Asking someone to explain, in the gentlest mode of simple curiosity, can be very effective.

      But doesn’t everyone feel helpless sometimes? Personally, the little Voice of Doom is with ME always, some days louder than others. 😉

  3. The Puritans, the same “founding fathers” that right wingers are always referring to when they talk about the white people that came over here from Europe to escape religious persecution, actually believed that it was sinful to make more than you needed (this was one of the tenets for which they were persecuted). They didn’t believe it was wrong to make a profit; indeed, they believed it was right to be industrious and make enough money to keep your family in reasonable comfort. They just believed that taking advantage of others in order to make more than you really needed was WRONG.

    How woefully we have gone astray.

    When I hear ignorant, racist or classist politicians make ghastly, thoughtless statements about people whose lives they have no understanding of, whose difficulties they’ve never thought about, whose needs are largely a product of a self-perpetuating system to keep them down, I just want to scream.

    Then I take a deep breath and remind myself of what Edward Everett Hale said:

    “I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything; but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”

    A part of me whispers in one ear, “We’re doomed!” Another part of me believes that if we all join together, we CAN make a difference. Let the filthy rich pay taxes again and rejoin the world community, rather than their gated communites. Their behavior is embarassing, anti-social and unhealthy; it leads to an illness of the soul. How they can frequently call themselves “christians” is beyond me.

  4. The material poverty of the many

    Would not exist without the moral poverty of the few


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