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Anand Girihadaras is one of the most interesting thinkers and writers of our time. His book Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World describes the self-serving, status quo “philanthropy” of the super-rich. He has a blog called The.Ink, where the following interview appeared earlier this year. In it, a very successful Danish entrepreneur explains his belief that those who are very wealthy should pay higher taxes, instead of making charitable donations through their philanthropies.
Paying taxes supports government programs that help everyone, he says, and made his success possible. Private philanthropy weakens the social safet net and cements inequality.
Here is an excerpt:
“Wealth is like manure”: a conversation with Djaffar Shalchi
ANAND: You recently started an organization called Millionaires for Humanity. This raises the question: Do you think most millionaires and billionaires are currently for humanity?
DJAFFAR: If we millionaires are going to be “for humanity,” we have got to go beyond philanthropy and recognize that we need to be taxed. No matter how generous and smart we think we are in our private giving, unless we shift from trying to minimize our taxes to advocating to be taxed more, we are not living up to being “for humanity.” Are most millionaires there yet? No. I do feel a shift is starting, though. Please keep encouraging us — and keep pressuring us, too.
ANAND: You have an interesting personal background that led you to this place of advocating for structural change as a very rich person. Tell us about your journey.
DJAFFAR: I am one of those who gets highlighted by the media as a “self-made man.” I am told that I fit the storyline: I am an immigrant son of a single mother from Iran; while my mum cleaned in hotels, I studied hard, worked hard, and became a successful entrepreneur. I rose to be a multimillionaire — the American dream, except in Denmark!
It has always been evident to me, however, that I have not risen all by my own efforts: that I am not a “self-made man,” that the welfare state made me. Without the creche care and schooling and health care I received, I could not have flourished. And without Denmark’s strong public services, neither could my business.
ANAND: What was your epiphany, if any, in realizing that very rich people like yourself need to be reined in rather than asked to give back?
DJAFFAR: I knew it as a working-class immigrant child. Later, when I became rich and got involved in philanthropy across the world, I witnessed that while philanthropy can help ameliorate tough times for some people, it is only in collective action through government policy that we can we achieve a fair society and shared prosperity. All the data bear out what I witnessed. The way I put it to my fellow rich people is this: there is a title that is more noble and consequential than “Generous Philanthropist,” and that title is “Happy Taxpayer.”