Dylan Matthews is usually pretty sharp, but his attack on Stephen Schwarzman for his $150 million gift to Yale strikes me as misguided. Mr. Matthews writes, at Vox, under the headline, "For the love of God, rich people, stop giving Ivy League colleges money":
It's hard to imagine a worse way to use the money that still entitles Schwarzman to a charitable tax deduction. Yale is not a charity. It is a finishing school that overwhelmingly serves children of wealth and privilege. Supporting its scientific and particularly biomedical research is worthwhile, but the school is already far richer than all but one of its peer institutions and has access to considerable federal funds in that area, as well. And, of course, Schwarzman isn't supporting Yale's biomedical research. He's giving its dancers a nicer stage upon which to pirouette....
Literally any other charity, save maybe Harvard, is a better choice. Schwarzman could give $150 million to distribute bednets in sub-Saharan Africa, a highly cost-effective way to save lives. He could give $150 million directly to poor people in Kenya and Uganda through GiveDirectly. He could give $150 million to deworming efforts that spare children ailments that can cause immense pain and poverty. He could give $150 million to the Open Philanthropy Project or the Gates Foundation or another group doing careful, rigorous work to determine the best ways to use charitable resources to make the world a better place. He could, in fact, do all of the above because he's crazy stupid rich....
He's a Yale alum, and this donation clearly provides some kind of emotional benefit to him.
But it's not philanthropy. It's not helping people who need help, and it's obscene that Schwarzman is getting a massive tax write-off for it. Giving to Yale is not an act of altruism. It's a gigantic, immoral waste of money, and it's long past time we started treating it as such.
Here's the official Yale announcement of the gift, from earlier this month. It seems to me that even if one buys Mr. Matthews' conclusion that the absolute best way to use charitable dollars is, essentially, to fund public health projects for the poor in the third world, donating to Yale (or to another Ivy League college) isn't necessarily inconsistent with that. If Harvard didn't exist, would the Gates Foundation have Bill Gates' Microsoft billions to spend on public health? Maybe not, by the accounts of both Walter Isaacson and Paul Allen. And without a grounding in the humanities, or the liberal arts, how are "children of wealth and privilege" supposed to make their own independent judgments about the best use of their resources? Are they supposed to just take Mr. Matthews' word for it?
It's actually a sad statement about the level of class hatred in this country at the moment that someone can make a $150 million charitable donation and get condemned for it — "obscene...immoral" — just because many — not all, but many — students who attend the school that received the donation are from well-off backgrounds.