Elsewhere (39)
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.”



rich people should stop “creating inequality” while giving money away.


Speaking of vindictive I spotted this in the comments:

"Would be good if some anarcho types could get in there, play it for laughs and start throwing around a few condoms full of dogshit."

It's because they care so much.

Simen Thoresen

If we brand all the bad people so that their grandchildren forever will see what they meant, they'll think of the children and be scared into conformity;


I'm a little ...impressed.


carbon based lifeform

Zoe Williams really shouldn't write about economics. Or anything else.


“Or anything else.”

Well, it’s a tad mystifying. Zoe seems to believe that hedge funds are (a) unregulated, and (b) the key to the banking crisis, which may be news to quite a few hedge fund managers and actual economists. She therefore believes that people who benefit from hedge funds are doing more harm than any charitable giving could undo. Naturally, the Guardian’s own impressive use of hedge funds passes unremarked.

She also seems to imagine there’s a fixed amount of wealth and that if some people are richer than others this in itself is a terrible, terrible thing. People richer than Zoe are “creating inequality,” apparently, even if they give lots of their money to charity. Their giving is somehow invalidated just by the fact they’re rich. But by that thinking, Zoe herself is robbing the destitute by accepting payment for shoddy articles. Clearly, her fees could be put to better use.


"but the social cost of inequality, not to mention tax-avoidance, means they drink much more than they bring"

Did someone mention tax avoidance?


"It underscores how much more attractive aristocrats were when their tournaments involved horses, and some prospect of injury."

Helping desperately disadvantaged children is objectionable and not as attractive in delighting in the spectacle of physical injury. Yep, you're a leftist.

R. Sherman

Yes, were the hedge fund contributors to have "normal" jobs, immediately some child in India would move from selling trinkets on the street to a nice middle class existence.

It's clear what her ilk object to is that these people are voluntarily giving their money to causes and people they, the givers, choose to benefit, instead of the government or a committee of Guardian worthies taking it and making the determination. Yet, it is the wealthy who would rather see people starve, is it?

Steve M

But socialist brains are two sizes too small.


Helping orphans is objectionable if the people doing the helping are wealthier than Zoe Williams. Principles, see?

David, you're missing the bigger picture. Hating the rich is a lot more important than helping the poor.

John B

Good to know that outcomes play a distance second to motivations when it comes to helping poor kids.

Or to rephrase that, an honest person wouldn't care if the rich people spent the whole banquet laughing at poor people and trying to knock down a "Romanian Orphan Pinata." All that matters in the real world is the money raised and the resulting services. It says a lot about Zoe's priorities that the idea that rich people might have an "undeserved" sense of kindness is more important than the money generated to create that sense of kindness.


You know, sadly, she's right. Having high-net-worth individuals donate huge sums of money to worthy causes DOES demonstrate how much better capitalism is than any other ideology. And thank goodness for that! You and I and most other normal people in the world accept as a foundational truth the premise that capitalism is self-evidently better for humankind than any other human-devised government system. We therefore, don't see (without straining) the political implications of a simple act of charity. But for the plurality of the West's leftist population EVERYTHING and ANYTHING that demonstrates the natural superiority of individual liberty and freedom (as opposed to leftist oligarchy) is an existential threat and must be quashed. We should stop hiding our head's like ostriches and loudly and proudly proclaim the glory of freedom and liberty. Anyone who wants to quibble over the simpleminded slogan that wealth creation leads to inequality, should be required to explain why the Left should be excused from the inevitable universal human misery that results from their obsession with wealth destruction.

Where in the world are the poor worse off? America or Zimbabwe? South Africa or Yemen? France or Romania? The old West Germany or East Germany? Spain or Russia? Shocker!...the poor are all worse off in countries that follow Zoe's ideology...and they're FAR better off in countries that don't.


What you people fail to appreciate here is how hard it is to type and entire article of this size whilst wearing a straight-jacket. Don't mock until you've tried.


Now I understand. By "Comment is Free" they don't mean free as in speech, or even free as in beer. They mean that the value of the comment is zero.

Andrew Zalotocky

I suspect that it all comes down to status. The Guardian is written by people who clearly think that they are the cultural and intellectual elite. People like that always think they are too superior to ever dirty their hands with mere vulgar commerce. They always have a huge sense of entitlement. So it must really twist in their guts to see businessmen and bankers and so forth giving more money to charity in one day than they ever will in their entire lives, and doing more to improve the situation of the poor than every champagne socialist in London put together. Williams is simply defending the interests of her class by attacking something that makes them look utterly useless in comparison.


Framing one's superficial concern for those who are poorer in a resentful obsession with those who are richer. One way to rationalise envy by re-packaging it as altruism. Is anyone compiling the stats of poor being lifted up by the generous hand of Z. Williams compared with the number of Romanian orphans helped by Ark? A pie graph would do the trick; only one colour would be required.


So she believes these people should "desist" from their "activities" and go get regular jobs with middle-class wages. These alleged troglodytes, some if not most of whom have created companies that GIVE PEOPLE JOBS and create wealth, should instead have never started their companies, thereby making them acceptable in her eyes but at the same time eliminating the jobs and wealth they had created. All of which would have left us in 2011 with a poorer world with more people out of work. Priceless.


Would someone please point out to Zoe that Vonnegut's Harrison Bergeron is not a how-to book?


“By ‘Comment is Free’… they mean that the value of the comment is zero.”

What’s interesting about Zoe’s article – aside from its economic illiteracy and general nastiness (standard features of her output) - is the rush to assume. She uses the word aristocrats, thereby suggesting that the unnamed people donating to this charity couldn’t possibly have earned their wealth, or by her reckoning, deserve it. She gives no examples to support this insinuation, but we’re led to believe that by being rich they’ve somehow become bad people - people whose injury would be amusing.

A Guardian reader picks up on this sly motif and assumes even more,

“The Ark Gala Ball is just a manifestation of a latter-day aristocracy, absurdly rich people who’s lives [sic] would have no meaning at all if it wasn’t for their well publicised charitable activities… The Russians shot their aristocrats, France beheaded theirs and we Brits taxed ours out of existence, I wonder how long this current crop can last.”

Again, feel the love.

And we see exactly the same tactic in the article by Kevin McKenna, who says that private education shouldn’t be “allowed to exist.” He assumes his readers will readily dislike anyone willing and able to pay for their children’s education. Because… well, because they probably drink Chablis and read the Sunday Times.

the wolf

Zoe objects to high net-worth philanthropy, but I bet she would be just keen on the government confiscating money from the very same people in the form of taxes. Because government philanthropy, you see, is inherently good.

Horace Dunn

Passing through my local station one morning some weeks ago, I passed an elderly gent who was collecting for a children's charity (I forget which). A couple of well-dressed middle-aged ladies had stopped to chat to him and were commiserating with him for having to sit there on a chilly spring morning shaking a collection tin. The old fellow himself then piped up with this gem:

"Exactly. If we were a more caring society there'd be no need for all these charities".

With logic that like, he might be a Guardian columnist in the making.


"Perhaps the rest of us should take whatever measures prove necessary not to become rich, then?"

No need. They're only too happy to take care of preventing that hideous injustice for us themselves.


About a dozen commenters have corrected Zoe re hedge funds etc. I bet she'll still come out with the same rubbish next time.



Another contender for the Zoe Williams Compassionate Left Award:


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


For ages I've wondered why the media kept talking about "hedge funds" and "hedge fund managers" in relation to the banking crisis. Somehow it never occurred to me that they have no earthly clue what it is that a hedge fund actually does.

I "hedge funds" just gets dropped in the mental bucket of "stuff rich people like", which they empty out and paw through, uncomprehendingly, whenever they need handy rhetorical bludgeon.

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