Edited by Iain Hay and Jonathan V. Beaverstock
Chapter 6: Billionaire philanthropy: ‘decaf capitalism’
My purpose in this chapter is to carry out an ideology critique of the charity work of celebrity billionaire humanitarians, Bill Gates and George Soros. Their charity work, I argue, consists of giving away spectacular sums of wealth along mostly entrepreneurial lines, yet forswearing how such wealth was accumulated in the first place. Indeed, the two billionaires’ philanthropy is tied to (disavowed) ruthless business practices, a phenomenon I will refer to as ‘decaf capitalism’. My overall argument is that the construction of celebrity corporate philanthropy helps repudiate corporate capitalism’s ‘dirty’ underside, which is to say that celebrity charity helps stabilize and advance the global neoliberal capitalist order. My focus on Gates and Soros as billionaire humanitarians is meant not to concentrate on their personal motivations or foibles but to help illustrate the broader structural features of our current cultural and political economy. It should not be forgotten that both men are products of the neoliberal deregulation of financial markets of the 1980s and 1990s, accompanied as it was by the emergence of the ‘new information economy’ and the dot.com boom. This is the period that witnessed notable economic growth in much of the West. But such growth was highly skewed, showing up in the form of a remarkable rise in the ranks of the super-rich on the one hand, and growing social inequality on the other.
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