We're catching up with this a few days late, but it's too good to let pass: at the conclusion of a long New York Times article on Mayor Bloomberg ending a program of grants through the Carnegie Corporation, comes this, citing Carnegie's president, Vartan Gregorian:
Mr. Gregorian said it was almost impossible to capture how meaningful Mr. Bloomberg's contributions were to the city's arts and social services communities. Even as the mayor shifts his charitable giving to his foundation, Mr. Gregorian is certain Mr. Bloomberg will continue to be a major philanthropic force.
"He shares Andrew Carnegie's notion that the person who dies rich dies disgraced, because he does not have the imagination to reinvest the money into society," he said.
It's one thing for a person to decide for himself that he wants to give away all his money. But to take that and generalize it into a judgement about how everyone else ought to behave -- "the person who dies rich dies disgraced, because he does not have the imagination to reinvest the money into society" -- is really a leap of arrogance.
One can understand how it fits the agenda of Mr. Gergorian, who spent much of his career as a professional fundraiser. But the Times, of all places, should know better.
The whole concept of dying rich is a bit of a straw man, anyway. As the saying goes, you can't take it with you. So the choice facing elderly rich people is to give the money away to a non-profit that may or may not spend it as the donor intends, or to keep the money in the family. Allowing a business to pass through one's estate to one's own family is itself a decision about reinvesting the money into society, one that is not inconsistent with dying rich, and one that should carry with it no disgrace. Had generations of Ochses and Sulzbergers taken the advice of Carnegie and Mr. Gregorian and decided not to die rich, they'd have liquidated the family business that is paying the salary of the reporter who is interviewing Mr. Gregorian and passing along to readers his quote casting aspersions on multi-generational family businesses. If anyone is guilty of a disgraceful lack of imagination here, it's Mr. Gregorian, assuming his comments were accurately represented, and Mr. Carnegie.