What the Butler Saw

“If Matthew Bishop were interviewing for the role of Butler in a family I served as Morals Tutor, I would tell him to stand up straighter, lower his nose to be level with the floor, and not to smirk,” says Phil Cubeta on his Gift Hub blog. Phil is the self-appointed “Morals Tutor to America’s Wealthiest Families” and describes the opinions expressed in his blog as “mine, or at least those of a character like Diogenes that I might be impersonating from time to time.”

Phil’s beef is that Matthew has dared to speak positively about the super-rich. Instead, he prefers to pour scorn on philanthrocapitalists. Unfortunately he doesn’t seem to have read the book, since none of the individuals whose recent failures he celebrates (Conrad Black, Bernie Madoff and Richard Fuld) were noted philanthrocapitalists in the sense that we mean it (though Fuld did give away a lot of money, especially to New York’s Musuem of Modern Art). Ho-hum.

At its root, Phil’s criticism of philanthrocapitalism is that he doesn’t like rich people. Tellingly, in a footnote to his blog, Phil admits that “I would be disengenuous if I said that I am really trying to improve your morals. My motivation is more like revenge.” In this way, he is following in the tradition of his alter ego, Diogenes, a founder of the Cynic school of philosophy in Ancient Greece (who was also known for urinating and masturbating in public).

Bashing the rich is like shooting fish in a barrel at the moment. We think that a more urgent debate is about what kind of capitalism we want to see emerge from the current crisis, including what it means to be a good billionaire, as Matthew recently discussed in an interview with Forbes magazine. We think at least some of today’s leading philanthropists deserve praise, and if saying so makes us unpopular with our colleagues below stairs, so be it.