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Friday Ephemera

Socialist Hearts Are Just Bigger Than Ours

Zoe Williams is unhappy. Miffed, you might say.

The Ark Gala Ball takes place on Thursday night behind Kensington Palace. Tickets are £10,000 each, so with 900 guests that’s £9m raised before they even start their charity auction… Ark stands for Absolute Return for Kids, and was set up early this century by a group of hedge fund managers… Their aim is to change the life chances of children – from India to Romania, South Africa to Southwark. In Africa they distribute retrovirals and have been fighting HIV/Aids since before the South African government would admit there was a link. In Romania, they took on the orphanages; in the UK they took over failing secondaries to create Ark academies.

Zoe tells us that the Ark Gala raises “extraordinary sums - £14m in just one night in 2007.” And all for good causes. So, er, what’s not to like?

Nevertheless, I object to high-net-worth philanthropy in principle.

Feel the warmth of that great big socialist heart. Helping orphans is objectionable if the people doing the helping are wealthier than Zoe Williams. Principles, see?

It is often presented as a politically neutral act, motivated by pure goodness.

I suspect the beneficiaries of such fundraising won’t be overly troubled by the personal motives in play, pure or otherwise. And perhaps we’re supposed to believe that goodness is the exclusive attribute of Guardian columnists, who are by definition the measure of human virtue. Like Kevin McKenna, for instance, whose ideas of fairness and compassion entail thwarting the educational opportunities of certain children. A topic on which Zoe has also had interesting things to say: “As for vindictive, ha! Good.” Like so many supposed egalitarians, Ms Williams struggles with malicious inclinations and today is no exception:

Go nuts, you individuals of high net worth; bid the farm in your charity auction. Anthropologists, by the way, call these auctions “tournaments of value.” It underscores how much more attractive aristocrats were when their tournaments involved horses, and some prospect of injury.

Yes, for Zoe, charity would be much more satisfying if the donors were getting hurt.

Inequality is a precondition of this kind of lavish spending.

Ah. By becoming rich – richer than Zoe, anyway - people are “creating inequality.” Ghastliness itself. Perhaps the rest of us should take whatever measures prove necessary not to become rich, then? Perhaps it would be better if rich people didn’t exist and the fundraising events where rich people gather were just the stuff of socialist nightmares?

There are financial arguments to be made about whether or not these people would do more good by just desisting from their activities and making do with normal jobs that paid normal salaries.

Normal salaries won’t of course cut much ice at an Ark Gala, where ticket sales alone raise millions of pounds. Even Zoe, whose former school sends well-heeled little socialists on trips to Rome, Morocco and Barbados, would be out of her league. Still, Zoe’s personal resentments are the important thing and these “obscenely” rich people should stop “creating inequality” while giving money away. Given time, the orphans of Romania will doubtless learn to do without while sharing in Ms Williams’ moral satisfaction.

Update, via Sam in the comments:

I actually smiled when I saw that they had double-barrelled surnames.”