Stupid Billionaire Tricks: Give Charity to MBAs

The Nonprofiteer is at it again, gently suggesting that a Sun Microsystems billionaire isn’t necessarily the world’s authority about how to combat poverty.  But maybe fighting poverty isn’t what he had in mind after all.

Who taught people to say “charity” with a sneer?

Author: Kelly Kleiman

Kelly Kleiman is a freelance writer on the arts, feminism, travel and social justice. Her reportage and essays have appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and Christian Science Monitor, among other dailies; in magazines, including In These Times and Dance; in the alternative press; on the BBC; and on Chicago Public Radio, where she’s one of the “Dueling Critics” and a contributor to the Onstage Backstage theater blog. She is also a consultant to charities and editor and publisher of The Nonprofiteer, a blog about charity, philanthropy and nonprofit management. She holds undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Chicago.

6 thoughts on “Stupid Billionaire Tricks: Give Charity to MBAs”

  1. I’m amazed at how many zillionaires put their money where Nealey’s mouth is. The amount of donations to business schools is astounding.

    Business schools are becoming the intellectual centers of too many universities. It’s a bit ironic: the square-jawed Galtian lords of the universe funding what is almost certainly the fuzziest and most touchy-feeley of academic programs. It also doesn’t bode well for universities, at least if you think they should be associated with intellectual rigor and independence. Financial economics is rigorous, you say? So it is: much like a good department of scholiastic theology. And it is about as independent of its funders as the unburnt scholiasts.

  2. “.. He claims it would be better for society to give money to MBAs to start new businesses. It’s so convenient, isn’t it, when what’s better for society turns out to be exactly what’s best for you? ..”

    You seem confused between McNealy’s personal interests and what he identifies as those of society. He has, as you note, billions. And he’s not going to be the target of charitable giving! He is making the old ‘give a man a fish, he is happy for a day, teach him to fish, and he is happy for his life’ argument. It’s plausible, and gets more plausible as you look at the life trajectories of people who win the lottery.

    I think charities in the ‘teach to fish’ area are likely to be a lot better than giving money to endow a new faculty building at Wharton. Grameen Bank, I like it. But, I am absolutely with him on the value of people starting new businesses and hiring people.

    1. I am not against business per se. But only ethical businesses are a social benefit. Now if someone figures out how to create more of those, we might be onto something. Being rich is not admirable in itself, it depends how the person made it. I wonder if they teach that in business school?

      1. Adam Smith, he said: “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.” I think ‘ethical’ is not a very useful way to look at, say, a plumber’s supply store, or a flour mill, or a locksmith. Some of them do, some don’t, kick in fifty bucks when they get shaken down by the parents from the local elementary school for soccer equipment money. They are in business, they need to abide by rules to stay in business, they only get money if they meet needs. They employ people. There is some problem with that?

    2. While that is the most charitable interpretation (no pun intended), it would make Scott McNealy just look ignorant instead. “Teaching men (and women) to fish” is a large part of what the Gates Foundation does; it also invests a lot of money in businesses to do its work, including startups.

      But in general, startups (which is what McNealy seems to prefer) are a poor match for charity work. Startups not only have a high failure rate [1], they tend to have difficulties dealing with the razor-thin margins (and sometimes losses) that charity work involves.

      For example, one of the prime goals of the Gates Foundation is to stamp out Malaria; that’s just not something that startups excel it (startups don’t easily scale to “world size”). A lot of the Foundation’s work involves global initiatives (in particular, involving third world countries). Creating jobs in America would be a nice side effect (and probably is, since a fair amount of the work is done by American companies), but that’s not the primary goal of these initiatives.

      Overall, Scott McNealy strikes me as a man with a hammer who sees everything as a nail. There just are some things that the free market fairy doesn’t solve.

      [1] The love affair some people who think government is ineffective have with investing in startups is really astounding. The Obama administration got a lot of flak over the Solyndra failure, but by startup standards, the overall program has been pretty effective. As the saying goes in SIlicon Valley, if you haven’t failed a few times (as a startup founder), you haven’t tried hard enough. The current American startup culture often resembles a lottery more than an investment program. That works well enough if the net payoff is right, but it’s not a basis for systematic charity work where you need predictable outcomes.

Comments are closed.