September 2011

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Royal Patronage

by Bruce A. Clark

We are in the age of the billionaires, and others less volumetrically wealthy. That is bad, in a lot of ways, but it could also have its good points. I dont wish to seem to contradict Jonathan Wallace and his article about billionaires, because I thought very highly of it. However, not all of the wealthy are right-wing scum suckers who are trying to turn this country into a Third World place so they can better exploit the working people. There are some very rich people who are politically middle-of-the-road or even further left.

Unfortunately, most of these more progressive (small p, used for lack of a better word) multi-millionaires and, perhaps, billionaires are not doing much good in the realm of changing the way the world works. They have allowed themselves to be hamstrung by their own money. These wealthy folk are caught in the trap of devoting their contributions to simple charity, where they can make tax-free contributions, and have forgotten that they can take other routes to bring about political change, even if they must pay some extra taxes.

The key to making an improvement to the way the country (and the world) works is to support the people who are willing and able to do the work. Unfortunately for the tax-free-foundation-oriented rich, these world-changing cadre are not suit-wearing people accustomed to filling out grant forms. They just want to go out and do stuff. They are generally thinking people who would be happy devoting their lives to making the world a better place, and are not particularly motivated toward self aggrandizement.

They are, however, handicapped like everyone else by having to pay the rent or the mortgage, and for health care and groceries and auto insurance, etc. That means that they have to waste 40+ hours a week on a job to make money, when they could be improving the country.

In any endeavor, to keep things moving, the people with the skills and ideas must be kept working and not spinning their wheels. Well-run businesses know this, some unions know this, but the progressive rich do not! If they want their wealth to make a difference, however, they are going to have to learn it.

Think back to the days of Mozart and Beethoven. How did the world come to have their body of wonderful music? It was because of the patronage of the wealthy! Mozart was significantly funded by his royal patron, Joseph II, as Beethoven benefited from his patron, Archduke Rudolph. The same idea must be brought into play in the modern era if the more progressive wealthy want their money to actually change things. Charity is good, but at best it maintains the status quo. It doesnt help the cadre of social change.

There many ways to accomplish this, from maintaining a big staff of people working for change, to supporting independent loci of further tax-free foundations, to ideas not thought of yet. Whatever the individual means, the idea of supporting the cadre of activists and thinkers is of the utmost importance.

One more thing: those rich people getting into the arena of activist patronage are going to have to realize that the people they support will not automatically become political clones of themselves! The value of the cadre is in their intelligence and independence. Those with the money need to understand that they have shown a talent for making money. That does not necessarily mean that they are also political gurus; they might have things to learn.

Just as money cant buy class — a pig in a tux is still a pig — it cant buy omniscience, either. Some of the people — the activist cadre — are going to have different ideas from their patrons in some areas. The wealthy patrons are going to have to be open to the concept that they might have things to learn from the doers and thinkers they are supporting, and cannot dictate everything to them. Sometimes they will have to live with the fact that their protégés will be supporting things that (they think) they oppose. That will be the real test: can they let go of their egos enough to, perhaps, learn something from the cadre they support, and continue their support?

The answer to that question might be one of the most important answers of our time.