Friday, August 6, 2010

Postmodern capitalism and the embarrassment of riches

The dozens of American billionaires who this week pledged to give half of their fortunes to charity should surely be applauded for their generosity.

The world's sick, poor and needy stand to benefit to the tune of up to $150bn over the coming years as a result of the initiative led by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.  

But there is something paradoxical about men (for it is mostly men) who spend most of their lives ruthlessly building business empires, without fear or favour, only to then give half of their gains away.

While philanthropy is nothing new, the world has never before seen wealth creation and dispersal on a such a massive global scale.

It's a phenomenon that Slavoj Zizek, the entertainingly rabid marxist philosopher, has dubbed "postmodern capitalism".

If they truly wanted to help save the world, you might ask, why didn't these compasionate capitalists pay their employees and suppliers more and ensure that their companies helped nurture communities and the environment, rather than damaging them?

Because, they might respond, if we hadn't kept a tight ship, we never would have been able to create jobs, generate tax receipts and accumulate the billions that we are now so keen to give away.

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