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Making the World a Better Place

A news story on the sale of Bob Hope's 50 million dollar home, complete with stargazing dome and profile-shaped pool, disgorged any number of comments suggesting that Hope should have given that money to the poor. Or more broadly to 'the people'.

Spending 50 million dollars on a home does mean that the money will go to people. 50 million dollars spent isn't money thrown into the ocean. It's money given to contractors, manufacturers and landscapers that is then passed on their workers and to other contractors and their workers.

Hope no doubt gave plenty of charity while among the living. And the act of giving charity is not really so different. There is an organization with a CEO and an office staff that is tasked with performing the charitable function. A percentage of the money reaches 'the people' who each receive less than the workers who worked on the Hope homestead. That is assuming they even receive money. Usually they receive some form of services, necessary or unnecessary, provided by the non-profit charity distributors.

There is a great deal of noise over the compensation packages for CEOs. Much of that noise is justified. The modern American corporation is a disaster suffering from the same short term thinking as every other institution. But very little complaint is made about the compensation packages for non-profit CEOs. And nothing is said about about the huge fortunes piled up by for-profit companies that run on government grants while working toward some noble cause such as Green Energy or distributing foreign aid from our government to the Third World.

The compensation package isn't the issue. It's the moral value of the work. The man who planned out Bob Hope's profile-shaped pool or sold the tickets for the movie that paid for it wasn't doing work of any value. But the man who got Bob Hope to sign over a check for a charity for feeding orphans somewhere east or south of there was doing work of moral value. Both groups of men were working to feed families. But one group was working to make the world a better place. And the other group was making swimming pools.

That's the way of thinking that currently governs the debate over the value of wealth and work.

A twenty-something Barnard grad with six figures of student debt making copies in the office of an environmental non-profit while wasting a fortune in education and ability is doing something of moral worth. But the man who dry cleans her office clothes isn't. The television producer who oversees infotainment on CNN is doing work of moral worth. The one who oversees a sitcom on CBS isn't.  

Take a for-profit college and a non-profit college. Both presidents have absurd compensation packages. Both turn out students with useless degrees, one in Mayan poetry and one in video game design. Both sets of students can't get a job and both have student debt. The for-profit college student has forty thousand in debt. The non-profit has sixty thousand in debt.

But the reformers descend on the for-profit college, while completely ignoring the non-profit college, despite its under-the-table arrangement with a financial services group to saddle students with debt from the money they walk in the door while boosting the compensation of the administrators, because non-profit thieves hate competition.

The real difference is not in student experience or fairness. What matters is the purpose of the institution. The non-profit college is dedicated to making the world a better place. The for-profit college isn't. And humanitarian motives always beat profitarian motives, even when both are really profitarian.

Charity work is of course of moral worth. But we have a shortage of authentic work that helps others. What we have instead is the need for investing useless work or for-profit work with moral stature. It began in the entertainment industry where every movie, book and play had to be aimed at spreading awareness of something or stamping out something else. And then it was everywhere.

Technology is of moral worth if it's Green. If it's not, it isn't. Finance is of moral worth if it invests in companies that produce social value. Food is of moral worth if it's local and sustainable. Clothes are of moral worth if they come from recycled materials. Every industry and activity has a moral worth that can be assessed based on whether it's making the world a better place or not. And if it is found to be making the world a better place, then no assessment needs to be made of its quality or integrity.

The pretense of not questioning the motives of the benevolent extends into the political world. Obama's motives never need to be questioned, nor do those of any Democrat. But Republican motives must always be searched out and examined. The altruistic Democrats are only out to make the world a better place. But the capitalistic Republicans are out to build coal mines with smokestacks that pollute the sky.

This simplistic breakdown creates two classes. The benevolent altruists who never make money but are always making the world a better place. And the greedy financial types who make money and make the world a worse place while doing it. The former are never to be questioned, regardless of the abuses that they subject their employees to, their criminal behavior and their own greed. The latter are always to be questioned, challenged and denounced.

The trouble with the World Improvement formula is that it addresses motives, rather than behaviors or outcomes. It divides populations, organizations and activities into good or bad depending on the supposition that one group is creating value for others and only pocketing some of the money on the side, while the other is creating value only for itself. One spends 50 million building swimming pools in Southeast Asia to help empower children. The other spends 50 million building a swimming pool.

A great deal of corruption, abuse and greed take place under the shadow of this progressive litany. Jim Jones committed terrible atrocities under the shield of making the world a better place. As did Stalin. More ordinarily huge fortunes have been spent and stolen by organizations forever busy making the world a better place.

Obama has squandered huge amounts of money on loans and grants to Green companies run by his backers. Both sides claimed to be only interested in making the world a better place. And if all the money is going, the taxpayers who do the uninspiring work of feeding their families, rather than making the world a better place, can pick up the tab.

The American taxpayer has his life largely run by humanitarians who want to make the world a better place. His civil rights have been stripped away from him for that same benevolent reason, with no protest from the usual sources, because civil rights violations for reasons of making the world a better place also must go unexamined.

All this benevolence has not made life any better for Americans. By and large people are poorer and have fewer rights. The War on Poverty was fought successfully by profitarians paying people to make pools. It was fought unsuccessfully by humanitarians who examined the conditions of poverty and concluded that more money needs to be invested in paying humanitarians to examine the conditions of poverty.

The United States has gone from a country that made for-profit jobs to a country that makes non-profit jobs paid for by the people who still work for-profit jobs. The transition is rapidly bankrupting the country on a municipal, statewide and national level. The Occupiers cheerfully brandished signs that declared, "One day the poor will have nothing left to eat but the rich." More accurately the poor one day will have nothing left to eat but social workers. And the rich will be running companies contracting multilingual translations for hunger outreach services.

That's already the way it is in California.

The United States is trying to function as a non-profit country by running up a ton of debt while trying to make the world a better place. The man in the White House has a Nobel Peace Prize, the debt is sky high and the only people feeling confident about keeping their jobs are the ones working to make the world a better place.

Making the world a better place has become a religious test. An oath of fealty to progressive values. Paying homage to it permits any degree of corruption and abuse. Refusing to do so brands one a heretic who must be up to no good.

Productive work is being destroyed while non-productive work is being subsidized with the past, present and future wealth of a nation. All this is being done for supposedly humanitarian reasons, yet the people who are suffering the most are the ones whom the humanitarians claim to be trying to help.

The first casualties of an economy that rewards Barnard grads who want to save the world, but punishes men who dig out pools are the latter. The next group hardest hit are the middle class who are squeezed out by high taxes and economic uncertainty. These are the people on whose backs the non-profit state rests. And they are its natural enemies. The progressives hate the middle class and the sense of property and security that it represents, and yet they depend on it. Like a parasite they kill the host and destroy themselves in the bargain.

The idea that making the world a better place begins with dedication to humanitarian activity is a dangerous fallacy. There are extraordinary people who can genuinely change the world that way, but they are a tiny minority. An entire society cannot exist in that way. All that does is transform a productive economy into a consumptive economy as for-profits become non-profits and suck away money while pretending to make the world a better place.

Humanitarian activity only means something if it is an alternative, rather than the default. When everyone is a non-profit, then it only means that everyone is corrupt and hiding their profits.

Long before the rise of the non-profit society, the United States was making the world a better place through invention and the occasional intervention. There was a time when it graduated far fewer college students and those students had much more of a positive impact on the world than the far larger number being graduated today.

No one had to invite celebrities to their graduation ceremonies to tell them to follow their dreams or keep social values in mind. They made life better by making better things, rather than by trying to make things better.

America used to be a country that made better things. Now we try to make life better, while our working population buys worse things from worse countries that lend us money for our eternal quest to make the world a better place.


  1. Anonymous10/3/13

    just brilliant

    -- spanky

  2. Great piece of writing.

    CS Lewis once wrote:

    "Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."

  3. Bob Hope died in 2003. I believe he built that house in the 50's or early 60's. While I'm sure it cost a lot back then, he didn't pay anywhere near $50 Mil for it. That is the current estimated market price.

    Where has al the critical thinking gone? Bob Hope gave millions to charity thru various means including his pro/am golf tournament and to Georgetown University's Medical school.

  4. On your first passage about the Bob Hope estate.
    When my first employer, a very greedy and very wealthy businessman, bought his first RollsRoyce I made, in youthful ignorance a somewhat scornful remark about this excessive show of affluence to an extremely gifted but politically very left leaning handyman who worked on an independent base for this man. This wise handyman answered me: "Who do you think worked constructing and thus benefitted this RollsRoyce, a wealthy or a common man?"

  5. There is no good and worthy endeavor that cannot be hijacked, redirected and ramrodded to its destruction, once opportunists who are charged up with the passion of self interest pretend to champion the cause. It a perfect cover. Who wants to be accused of not wanting to make the world a better place?

    It's a strategy that was planted as seeds sown decades ago. Now its harvest time.


  6. There is a great deal of noise over the compensation packages for CEOs. Much of that noise is justified. The modern American corporation is a disaster suffering from the same short term thinking as every other institution.

    I always think that the people who complain about CEOs making, say $10M/yr. should offer their services for $5M and see if they get the job.

  7. True story: my first VISTA job, my boss was a prolific crook. Really hard working. Stole $105K brazenly from the DHHS. He'd been given the money to do AIDS outreach to 1,050 refugee and immigrant youth. Yeah, do the math. He didn't even do the work. Gave one speech to an auditorium of non-immigrant minority kids, called it a day, cashed the check. Got 40K from the City of Atlanta to -- no kidding -- teach rap music recording to youth with at least three convictions -- this was to be job training. Sent me out into the hood to knock on doors and ask "anyone with three convictions home?" That didn't work so he did nothing, kept the money. Then when the (entirely black) city gov't refused to renew his grant, because he did nothing, he screamed racism. Instead of laughing at him, they let him have an extra 10K with no requirements for reporting attached and dropped the subject.

    I tried to report him. The head of VISTA SE Region, a bearded hippie sitting in a nice office in a federal building, laughed his ass off when I told him about it.

    You can't report him, hippy said, he's a black man and you're a white woman: how would that look? Exact words. He told me he'd transfer me if I kept my mouth shut. I said: transfer me but I'll report it anyway.

    He did; I did -- the DHHS and City of Atlanta never got back to me about my complaints.

    My old boss is still scarfing up grants. Last I heard he was doing 'green weatherproofing for low income homes.'

    I bet it's green.

  8. This is one of the finest essays penned by Daniel. Every tyrant and dictator in history has said he was a "humanitarian," and has made the world a "better place" by created kraals of misery and death, and consciously or by happenstance removed millions from existence from that "better place." Every economic policy that resorts to initiating force and fraud against a nation's economy and its citizens results in either immediate or incremental impoverishment of those citizens. Productive men who produce values are enslaved by non-productive, parasitical men who make careers of making the world a "better place."

    The moral culprit in this tragedy is the code of altruism, as Daniel points out here. Altruism, whether it's called Progressivism, or Marxism, or Islam, or Environmentalism, requires that one surrender or sacrifice a value in exchange for the humanitarian's "good intentions." The size or scale of the value, whether it's a $50 million house or a pack of cigarettes or a 16 ounce soft drink, is irrelevant. As Ellsworth Toohey, the career "humanitarian," said in Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead" – "It stands to reason that where there's sacrifice, there's someone collecting sacrificial offerings. Where's there's service, there's someone being served. The man who speaks to you of sacrifice, speaks of slaves and masters. And intends to be the master."

    Barack Obama intends to be a master, and has a Cabinet full of ambitious masters, and they all say they want to make the nation and the world a "better place." As Daniel points out, their motives are not to be examined or scrutinized, only the motives of those whom they intend to enslave, loot, and drive to penury. If men are to save themselves from the Obamas, Chavez's, Hitlers, Stalins, and Pol Pots of the world, they must first scrutinize the motives of their masters, and then examine the moral code that unleashes those monsters: altruism.

  9. Daniel,What a great essay.For me the real environmentalist/humanitarian are the people that bring us natural gas, clean water, good roads and bridges, sanitation, medical innovations ect. These people actually improve the quality of life for other people and make the U.S a better place.

  10. Anonymous10/3/13

    I am going to print that out, frame it and read it every morning after The Lord's Prayer.
    Thank you Mr. Greenfield.
    roger in florida

  11. Tina, yes this sort of outrage goes on all the time. Huge amounts of grants are doled out for the useless trendy gimmick of the moment

    get kids off drugs, promote healthy eating, promote green housing, etc

    we've wasted trillions on all this stuff by now and some people have gotten rich doing it

  12. Fiscal sanity is also the arch-nemesis of the social worker movement. This ha created the boom of the non-profit political pac expanding this quagmire further. This is why Citizens United has become enemy #1 of the Left. They need to silence all their competition which comes from for profit corporations. They also need to silence the for profit moguls that start non profit pacs like the Kochs. Because common sense is the rival of emotional motivations.

  13. Among other things, liberalism is fundamentally about power. You can't have power over people if you let the market decide what is productive and what isn't. In order to justify their thirst for power, liberals demonize profits and prices, which are the informational basis for how the free market makes decisions. They also elevate the basis for how they make decisions by wrapping it in concerns for humanity. In the end it all comes down to "my ideology is good, because I care, and the opposing one is bad because they don't, and they are bad people too."

  14. Great essay. Altruists are lauded as 'generous' but they always and uniformly generous with someone else's hard earned money, usally grabbed at gun point by the government. Real generosity means earning first what you then choose to give away.

    Bob Hope and others merit the label 'generous'.
    They earned it. What the Socialists/Altruists, including Obama and crew, are, is far too colorful to post here.

  15. In every culture that has lost it's moral foundations ,common sense and wisdom you have this excess and unaccountability.
    The masses in America have been dumbed down under the government media ,the boob tube and the re-uneducation process.
    The Roman Caesars saw themselves as God much like Obama and North Korea's Kim Un see themselves today.
    The corruption and perversity we see around us on a global scale always precedes God's divine judgment. Hold on to your popcorn because it's going to get hot and messy ,especially here in Obamaland the latest Empire to take a permanent dump into the rubble heap of history.

  16. Anonymous12/3/13

    The gnostic dream cult has nearly exhausted the vitality of our civilization. No amount of rhetoric or reasoning can break them out of their trance like state of immanentizing an ill conceived final climax of heaven on earth. Cause and effect have no meaning since once the final realization has been achieved history will end. Therefore no analysis of means and ends will be necessary.

    These causes are like mushrooms, minor yet conspicuous representations of much more expansive but concealed truths the gnostics perceive as public symbols of their identity.

    Make no mistake, they will never repudiate those symbols no matter the damage to civilization. Petty corruption is merely a distraction to the greater cause, only total collapse will stop them.

    So here we have it, a whole generation of mini-gods, in concert they act out a cruelly misconceived personal salvation impulse played out by proxy in wretched humanity.

  17. Insightful, the world is already a wonderful place, any blemishes are due to too many parasitic human beings.

    Who was it said you don't need to save the planet? It's a huge rock, nothing short of a cosmic accident is going to destroy the planet - but you could certainly do something about saving the life forms living on it.


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