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Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Good Club

In an age of austerity, what global political actors will have the resources and willpower to tackle major problems such as poverty, hunger, global warming, inequality of wealth, etc.? 

A recent issue of The Nation featured a book review by Mark Mazower that included an interesting anecdote about the super-wealthy people who seek to address world problems via their philanthropy:
In 2009, for instance, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and David Rockefeller called a meeting of their fellow super-philanthropists—people like George Soros, Oprah Winfrey and Ted Turner—to discuss what they could do in response to the global financial crisis and the longer-term environmental and health problems facing the world. When the participants gathered at an Upper East Side residence in New York on May 5, the meeting was shrouded in secrecy. It was scarcely surprising: the combined wealth of the people in the room was reckoned to be around $120 billion—and that was after already spending billions in the previous twelve years. Such sums dwarfed the social spending budgets of most member states of the UN down the road.
The so-called "Good Club" apparently had an important agenda at this private meeting -- though no one is precisely sure of the details. Most importantly, Mazower notes that the super-rich cannot solve global problems. That is a job better left to various international institutions: 
...did they decide, as some newspaper accounts have it, that it was up to them to tackle the threat of planetary overpopulation—probably the top global fear of wealthy American philanthropists for about a century? We cannot know. But we have learned enough about the history of private wealth to know that these do-gooders alone are inadequate vehicles to supply the global public goods that well-run multilateral international institutions can handle more systematically and openly.
Incidentally, the piece also discusses the work of NGOs and provides some interesting data. For example, 90% of NGOs have been formed since 1970 and "two-thirds of EU relief goes through them." Since 2003, these NGOs have been distributing more money globally than related UN organizations.

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