Home > Uncategorized > Slowly But Surely the Word is Getting Out: Billionaires Are Out to Get Public Education

Slowly But Surely the Word is Getting Out: Billionaires Are Out to Get Public Education

January 8, 2019

Yesterday’s Common Dreams featured an article by Lawrence S. Wittner, professor of history emeritus at SUNY/Albany, titled “Do We Really Need Billionaires?”. The answer, clearly, is NO… but their numbers are increasing and their impact on politics and public education are nothing short of devastating.

Mr. Wittner opens with these statistics on the expansion of the number of billionaires:

In March 2018, Forbes reported that it had identified 2,208 billionaires from 72 countries and territories.  Collectively, this group was worth $9.1 trillion, an increase in wealth of 18 percent since the preceding year.  Americans led the way with a record 585 billionaires, followed by mainland China which, despite its professed commitment to Communism, had a record 373. According to a Yahoo Finance report in late November 2018, the wealth of U.S. billionaires increased by 12 percent during 2017, while that of Chinese billionaires grew by 39 percent.

After offering a synopsis of the kinds of the obscene profligacy of many of these billionaires, he notes that in addition to accumulating ostentatious things like gold plated toothpicks the billionaires are also effectively accumulating control over government services… like public education:

…billionaires devote enormous energy and money to controlling governments…  During the 2018 midterm elections in the United States, America’s billionaires lavished vast amounts of money on electoral politics, becoming the dominant funders of numerous candidates.  Sheldon Adelson alone poured over $113 million into the federal elections.

And there IS a clear quid pro quo when donors make contributions. Mr. Adelson, a rabid pro-Israel supporter, only gives to the candidate who most fervently supports his views.

But the most insidious donations are those made by presumably big-hearted philanthropists who have pledged to give away their fortunes:

Admittedly, some billionaires have signed a Giving Pledge, promising to devote most of their wealth to philanthropy. Nevertheless, plutocratic philanthropy means that the priorities of the super-rich (for example, the funding of private schools), rather than the priorities of the general public (such as the funding of public schools), get implemented.  Moreover, these same billionaires are accumulating wealth much faster than they donate it.  Philanthropist Bill Gates was worth $54 billion in 2010, the year their pledge was announced, and his wealth stands at $90 billion today.

And here’s the kicker: in making their donations to causes that sound high-minded like “…the expansion of school choice” or the expansion of technology into public schools, they are unilaterally setting priorities that would normally be set by democratically elected school boards… and— as Adelson’s donations demonstrate— what they are doing at the local level is simultaneously occurring at the national level.

The answer to the question posed in Mr. Wittmer’s title is clearly no… as his concluding paragraph emphasizes:

Overall, then, as wealth is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, most people around the world are clearly the losers.

And there is a sad corollary: as wealth is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, democracy is clearly the loser.

%d bloggers like this: