Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Provenance of Money

I've written before about how the blessed use of tainted money purifies it. A recent case in point: Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center takes  money indirectly (through an auxiliary) from drugstore chain Walgreen's. They sell tobacco products. Tobacco causes cancer; MSK fights cancer, helps prevent it, treats it and - if you're lucky - cures it. Should MSK take their money?

Charities and their boards can struggle mightily with the moral, practical and p.r. consequences of the dirty dollar. Dirty money is cleansed in no more than two generations.Or as they say in Brazil "money whitens the skin." No one in their right mind turns away Rockefeller or Carnegie funding.What other than time purified the taint of killing coal miners in Colorado or spewing filth from smelters in Pittsburgh? The politically controversial Koch brothers' companies are major polluters - but David Koch is an expansive philanthropist generously supporting cancer research and the performing arts. Though there are no doubt situations of which I am blissfully unaware most great fortunes are not made by nice guys

Yes I know: Google, Apple, Intel and putatively  most of Silicon Valley don't pollute like the extractive industries. But they're now in court accused of cheating their software engineers out of higher wages by entering  into collusive no-raiding arrangements.Should I tell you not to take their money?

"Corporate philanthropy" is an oxymoron that has entered the lexicon. There is little altruism in company giving; nor should there be I would argue. It's the shareholders' money they're giving away. Corporate gifts are good cover. In the Walgreen's-MSK kerfuffle, for example, who benefits most? For MSK at best it's a poke in the eye p.r.-wise; for Walgreen's it's a win.

Bottom line: we live in a capitalist society. Take the money. Do good.

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