Yesterday, in my internet travels, I encountered a fascinating idea: the writer suggested that instead of channeling billions of dollars of their fortunes into charitable foundations, why don’t Bill Gates and Warren Buffett spend a fraction of that– say, one billion dollars– into backing progressive candidates for elected office? That way, instead of throwing money at globally entrenched problems, we could try reforming the structures that create and nurture those problems. I don’t recall where I read this rhetorical question, but I do recall (perhaps inaccurately) that the question was left dangling at that point.

I would like to answer that question. Whatever their true intentions, and we must assume that they mean well, Gates and Buffett have no intention of altering the political and economic structures that have allowed them to collect more income than they could ever hope to spend on themselves. I don’t know if that idea even occurred to them. Even if it did, Gates and Buffett probably understand that such an idea would meet daunting resistance.

There are obscenely wealthy people on this planet who go to bed at night knowing that a significant fraction of their amassed wealth– if appropriately redistributed– could make substantial changes. Starving millions could have enough to eat. Homeless millions could find dignified, permanent shelter. The horrid decay and total lack of infrastructure that create conditions ripe for preventable disease could be permanently ameliorated.

Perhaps Gates and Buffett are aware that the mentality that sees fit to hoard control over massively disproportionate amounts of resources– in the face of heart-rending human suffering that those resources could ease– would not hesitate to resort to more proactively deadly methods in order to preserve the status quo. The kind of substantial, lasting reforms that yesterday’s questioner imagines might be easier on the bottom line, but the predictable resistance to such measures might be infinitely more costly in blood and suffering.

I know I’m speaking in amorphous generalities here, but I think you know what I mean. Wars aren’t started by poor people.

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