Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Tom Hunt: The Opposite of Waste

When I interviewed Bill Gates in 1995, he said his children, who had not then be born, would not inherit his fortune which stood at what now seems a modest $6 billion. He intended to give it all away. I was sceptical, but he seems to be sticking to his plan and to a grand tradition of American philanthropy. Now we seem to have our own big giver in Sir Tom Hunt, who intends to give away £1 billion before he dies. He says he does not want to 'burden' his children with massive inheritances, but 'they will be well looked after.' Meanwhile, sundry hedge funders and other louts wreck the Mirabelle and pour £4,500 bottles of Cristal over each other. Of course, they will move on to better things - like an $80 million submarine. 'I'm a poet who builds submersible yachts for rich people,' says the sub builder. (Everybody I have ever met who sells ludicrously expensive things to insanely rich people claims to be either a poet or a philosopher. Funny that.) But will these louts grow up and move on to philanthropy like Hunt and Gates? Britain, I am often told, is acquiring the American philanthropic spirit. Perhaps this is because we have stopped taxing the rich into submission and because more people now doubt the competence of government to handle things like the arts, poverty alleviation and overseas aid. Perhaps also the native tradition of hating the rich is beginning to fade. After all, Britain is a land full of working class heroes who are very rich indeed. Philanthropy is a very high kind of sanity, a way of saying we belong to one another. It is the opposite of submarines and Cristal, it is the opposite of waste.


  1. European taxing of the very rich, or rather lack thereof, is little more than a recognition of reality. Who, who can/could, will/did willingly leave their wealth in a jurisdiction when they can move it and pay less tax.
    While, the hedge funders have a function, much like oil in an engine. And they can tip as much of that French stuff as they can find, I do not care. If on the other hand it was ancient Islay, I would think them fools rather than high spirited.
    Should they decide to buy a sub', well surely the RNLI will not be disturbed overmuch, which should give the navy chaps excellent training opportunities in deep submersible rescue op's. Plus, it will cost another fortune to keep the thing going.
    Silver linings, Bryan, abet a bit thin, but still silver.

  2. before Blair - about 1000 years before Blair, in fact - the lord or king was known as the giver of rings (a kind of currency); the mark of a lord was generosity: their instinct wasn't so much acquisitive as simultaneously acquisitive & generous. It makes more sense than ultra-rich oil barons plotting untold devastation in order to make themselves even more ultra-rich.

    Perhaps because 'money' was a solid physical thing, and was often in the form of objects (e.g. rings, jewellery) rather than coins, there was less temptation to see wealth as an end in itself, it wasn't money per se, it was particular things, a ring, a sword, a shield, a horse.

    Perhaps also because communities were more isolated, and felt the wild about to be (as it was) dangerous & unknown, kin & hearth companionship were vital - and to give gifts was to reinforce these bonds, the only bonds that held the cold & the dark at bay. To quote Sgt Walsh in The Thin Red Line: "In this world, a man, himself, is nothing. And there ain't no world but this one."

    The man alone, hoarding his riches, would have been regarded with bemused pity.

  3. well, yes, but what a shame we need them?
    anyway, I believe we had the philanthropists before now, just not rich ones or celebrity ones. I am reminded of the parable of the widow's mite...

  4. Old Man StreamJuly 18, 2007 8:16 pm

    Philanthrophy is just buying more of what money buys - power over people.That's why so much goes into compulsory schooling, read John Taylor Gatto.