I’ve eaten for the poor, now you expect me to dance for them.

I have just finished reading Against Charity (2018) by Daniel Raventos and Julie Wark it certainly wasn’t a rollicking good read and must admit I found it a bit of a slog. Having said that it is a valuable reference book packed with facts about philanthropy. Towards the end of the book at page 247 they note that in 1889 in his Gospel of Wealth the US steel baron Andrew Carnegie “suggested not only that private philanthropy would solve the problems of the rich and poor, but ‘hasten the coming of the brotherhood of man and at last make our earth a heaven.’”

They go on to note that the liberal theologian, William Jewett Tucker when reviewing Carnegie’s book in 1891 who wrote: “I can conceive of no greater mistake, more disastrous in the end to religion if not society, than that of trying to make charity do the work of justice.” This last quotation embodies the central argument of Against Charity. The first 190 pages of the book is devoted to this thesis; meandering from ancient Greek civilisations via texts and paintings of medieval Europe to the modern day.

The charity/philanthropy caper is alive and well in Australia and at page 104 Raventos and Wark write that “There are approximately 54,000 active charities, or about one for every 445 people (a ratio about four times higher than in the United States).” On the next page, they cite the fact the Sydney based Appco fund raising group raised $12.2 million for the Para-Olympics, taking a fee of 57%. The Para-Olympic Committee receive only 4%.

The last 57 pages is devoted to promoting the introduction of a universal basic income and knocking down objections to its introduction. This part of the book flows well they make the important point that a basic income is “periodic, taking the form of a cash payment, individual, universal and unconditional.” They note that the Credit Suisse bank estimates that the “top 1% of people has amassed as much wealth as the other 99%.” They go on to point out that “No economic policy is neutral. It will benefit some at the expense of others.”

Before agreeing with Linda McQuaig and Neil Brooks that “the market is as much a child of the state as the taxation system is, adding that ‘The Market is nothing but a complex web of government interventions.’” McQuaig and Brooks claim that entrepreneurs amount to only 4% of the super-rich which is composed mainly of corporate and finance professionals.

Raventos and Wark at pages 215-216 survey trade union opposition to basic income arguing that some officials fear that a universal basic income will weaken collective bargaining power by increasing individual power and that it will undermine work place socialisation and leave people isolated. They counter such ideas by pointing to the fact that few workers outside the civil service have ‘permanent contracts’ and that precarious employment is increasingly becoming the norm.

In promoting the idea of basic income Raventos and Wark quote with approval Arthur C. Clarke’s statement that “Every revolutionary idea seems to evoke three stages of reaction. They may be summed up by the phrases: (1) It’s completely impossible. (2) It’s possible, but it’s not worth doing. (3) I said it was a good idea all along.”

Raventos and Wark are very aware of the counter arguments, observing at page 223 that “Very rich people tend to push the notion of meritocracy as deservingness, which they equate with justice so, therefore, there is nothing unjust about their wealth.” Earlier at page 138, having discussed colonialism and genocide they write “The rich are quick to point out that we cannot inherit our ancestor’s sin. Indeed. But how can they then be entitled to the fruits of those sins: to their huge inherited advantage in power and wealth”. Perhaps John Howard should have said “Sorry”.

Against Charity concludes by making it clear that there would be no advantage in going down the path of right wing basic income advocates who would slash the welfare state and simply have a basic income which would force the least able to compete for health, education, disability and other community services. As Raventos and Wark say “Disabling citizens makes it easier to gut the social state, but it’s not just gutted. Social services and facilities are being replaced by security, surveillance and armed enforcers.” Against Charityis published by CounterPunch and costs a measly $20 get your copy now and avoid the rush.


Written 17/4/2018