Thursday, December 14, 2006

Taking Charity Seriously

Many of us, myself included, do not donate to charities as much as they should. In the day-to-day battle to get through life, earn a living, pay taxes, fund holidays and buy a new computer, charitable causes can often be overlooked. An argument given by perspectives that oppose high rates of tax is that the funds colourlessly taken by the taxman in the UK end up in Whitehall and local government to be squandered by inefficient and lazy officials. If this rate were lower not only would it take away the disproportionate power wielded by civil servants and politicians but the bonus we are told will happen is we will suddenly become philanthropists. Bill Gates is often toted as the role model example. The Microsoft millionaire will solve Africa’s problems with his money and the value of entrepreneurs being allowed to get on with business away from the dead hand of the state and its ridiculous regulations will finally be proved.

Despite its growth throughout New Labour’s troubled time in power, the state is in disrepute, to the extent that this friendly Economist-style argument to strip it back can tempt those such as myself who love the ideal of the Welfare State. For welfare is in disrepute. In the UK, the NHS, the pensions systems, our schools and the welfare system in general are facing spiralling problems that our politicians shirk from confronting. Bullish critics of the system point to the even more depressing decline of the French and German economies who didn’t go through the seemingly brutal slash and burn dismantling by Thatcher of the unions and her basic call to put business first. It can seem despite our prosperity that we may well be entering the end of a golden age which provided health provision free at the point of care for everyone and was meant to educate all,

To take one key example, the way modern healthcare has progressed also means it has become astronomically expensive. The NHS has serious difficulties providing a free service of the quality we demand and the only way we can supplement it for certain minority problems is by charitable donation. The new doctors’ contract is the second time a Labour government have stuffed their mouths with gold in order to keep this vital heart of the country’s health service on-side. It has succeeded in keeping the NHS plugging on, but, as many of us realise, the £1.2 billion deficit must be related to nearly doubling the salary of the highest paid members of the workforce as well as the cost of our astounding technological advances. The demands on the state to control the spiralling costs of this organisation are shirked by our leaders who realise the political suicide it is to try to bring this spending to heel but who will also refuse to put up taxes.

Come the time, come the individual and it seems it has to be our responsibility to begin taking charities seriously just because the terror our leaders face on the deadly tight-rope, they walk between providing high-quality services and keeping the economy ticking over, looks like it might lead to a catastrophic fall radically changing the basic services we hold dear. The Economist-style argument above has too much faith in private companies, for as we know from bitter experience the profit motive when treated as a religion can often sabotage the basic humanity of many and seems to lead to a fetishization of money, where need is ignored and commodities are endlessly desired. Yet sadly due to the way that governments function, characterised by a refusal to take hard decisions that may displease the multi-faceted group that elects them, yet finally annoying everyone, means that we better have faith in philanthropy because the state is in trouble.

Thank you to Angela Francesco for fearlessly raising the topic of charity and Huntington’s Disease on Frank Fisher’s crazy blog. Huntington’s is an example of a disease for which drug companies are unwilling to fund research in to a potential cure because of its rarity and therefore profitability. Donations to her charity jump to raise money for the disease can be made by contacting her by e-mail at Her blog documenting her mother’s mental decline and her attempts to deal with the disease can be found here


anticant said...

Toby, we live in an age when most politicians - and lots of other people too - believe that it is possible to square the circle, to have your cake and eat it, and for everybody to be winners. As these things are all impossible, the longer this crazy "system" attempts to function the more of us will end up as losers.

The most pernicious slogan I have ever seen is the bankers' seductive invitation to "take the waiting out of wanting" by borrowing from them [at astronomical rates of interest, of course]. When I was little we were taught that you should not buy something until you could afford it, and so you must be patient and save up your pocket money. Not any more! I have a young cousin who badgered all and sundry for enough birthday money to buy an absurdly expensive mobile phone. When I enquired whether he really needed it [because of course he had a mobile phone already] the answer weas no - he just WANTED it. And needless to say he got it.

Nobody can keep up a high standard of living "on tick" for ever, yet that is what the electorates of the Western democracies fondly imagine they can do. As long as higher taxes are anathema to the public and politicians, we shall keep on living beyond our means and nosediving into deeper and deeper debt.

The state, of course, does contribute a smidgeon to charity through the National Lottery, which appeals to the greedy gambling instinct and mathematical naivety of the masses. Sad, isn't it, that the selfishness of "taking the waiting out of wanting" has virtually killed the generous pleasure of charitable giving.

billstickers said...

You're not going to change that now, Toby. The end result of the whole welfare culture we have created is that the man in the street will never again be prepared to willingly pay the price for quality healthcare or education. {This is my stock answer over here now}.

The only way you'll get him to pay anything is to so lower the standard of both to such an extent as to make them totally useless to all who can afford any available alternative. Those alternatives will, of course, be had on credit.

Now, can you tell me, off the top of your head, what you know about charitable foundation and research regulation? How sure are you that your donation goes anywhere near a research facility? How much of your HD donation will go to administration costs? How much does a researcher get paid? Are you looking to donate now and get shocked (by Panorama) later?

Also, if charitable donations increased tenfold, would government bureaucracy [to regulate it) increase a hundredfold? Or more? Would government allow charities to usurp its power and budget?

In our fake 'representative' democracies, we can't escape government. It will continue to interfere in our lives, and charge us for the service, until it becomes too unweildy to sustain itself. On the way there, we'll pass through all the distopian hells necessary to keep it afloat as long as possible. When it finally collapses {during one 24 hour period), we'll return to our villages and begin again to elect chiefs to lead us (although some Greeks might decide to make their own decisions). Someone will get the empire itch and...

Toby Lewis said... - Bill - This is the research funded by the charity that Angela is advocating people should fund. This alongside additional care should justify putting your penny in the pot; but obviously you run the (very small) risk that the organisation is a corrupt front for Maxwell-like characters.

Surely though, government will remain to be what we let it to be, there is enough transparency to stop the plunge into a dystopian state if we want to.

The problem is the majority seem to want basic services for cheap but unless some aspect of the way the funding is negotiated changes then there will be a crisis. If this means a gradual end to the welfare state then so be it. You both seem to agree that people expect all for little, but the moment that what they demand is gradually (or suddenly) withdrawn they will perhaps realise that they have calculated poorly.

If we could simply consume and demand less then everything could be sustainable. Perhaps a new stoicism will arise from the ashes of our occasionally ugly grabbing society.

anticant said...

Toby, my consumption is relatively modest, and I cannot think of anything that I shall willingly give up until the electricity is cut off and I start fumbling around in the cupboard for those candles I thought I had somewhere....

Bill, I see where you're coming from, but surely each of us has to use our judgement about whether or not a charity is worthwhile subscribing to?

As for their probity, when I was director of a small national charity, and in contact with others in the voluntary field, the people who ran charities were by and large honest and conscientious and endeavoured not to waste money. Of course, there were some rotten apples and scam charities, but not all that many. The problem is, as in other spheres, that the regulatory watchdog, the Charities Commission, is rather a toothless beast and sometimes too reluctant to use what disciplinary powers it has.

In the end, it comes down to what people feel they want to do. Do you really think that generous impulses are always misguided? If so, I pity you.

billstickers said...

Well, the last thing I want to do is turn this blog into a repeat of what happened on Pike's. Sadly, the best way to ensure that is for me to write nothing on the subject.

I would like to respond to your points once, though.

I visited that web page, but am none the wiser regarding the regulation and control on charitable donation distribution or destination, or the percentage of those donations that go towards admin, etc. I believe it should all be out in the open.

(I received more information than was available at that site, in a recent email from a Mrs Kitanga Nboli, daughter of the late Governeor of the Bank of Nigeria, who was seeking my assistance in some financial matter involving a 13 million pound secret account.)

We never let government be. Representative democratic governments aren't mandated or controlled by the people. Two undividuals usually don't agree. The people might sometimes influence single policy decisions, but the beast ploughs on regardless of what the people say or do. And will plough on until it undoes itself. In those systems, the people just choose the beast's staff.

As soon as a government can deny the citizens legal due process, and a soon as it grants the powers of a judge to a policeman, you ARE living in a distopian state. Like boiling frogs, some might not notice until it's too late. Fear and "blissfulness" go hand in hand.

With health, education or magazines, the problem is not what people want, so much as what they've been led to get used to. People accept a lot of rubbish for many stupid reasons. And pay for the privilege. Standing up, at any point, and saying "This is all rubbish and has been for quite some time, if not always", involves opening yourself up for much abuse and ridicule (since you accepted the situation yesterday). It calls for courage, and that's a commodity in very short supply these days.

It's also destined to failure, since one person can do almost nothing in face of the divide and conquer system employed by the beast, the ignorance of the people that allows that system to flourish and the false plurality of the media, which ensures that that ignorance is maintained.

The problem is that millions of people live in a given "democratic society" with "I'm alright, Jack" attitudes. The only thing the average voter is prepared to lose is an election. He wouldn't consider volunteering to be deprived of anything of any real value to himself. You can't have a real democracy unless the members of that democracy are prepared to serve the greater good (as they themselves conceive it). Since people vote along party lines, or worse, along emotional lines, what hope is there? The reason I/P debates never reach a solution is that the debaters want to win the debate, not find a solution. "Democracy" is just a big "I/P debate". That's how it was designed to be, though. If I/P and party politics didn't exist, the beast would have to invent them.

The majority of people can't be stoic today. They are too dumb (and I mean that in the very best animal way), never mind selfish. The ultra-obvious "Pavlovian" bell/saliva research (who donated to that bunch of "Oh, duh!" rubbish?) illustrates my point. A bell (media) rings and people salivate (consume). Another bell rings and people hoist a flag and send their children to war. Another bell rings and people believe they have any say in their own existence because they voted in response to its knell.

To be stoic, you first have to be wise. Which involves having thunk. Which most people are too lazy and dumb to do.

billstickers said...

anticant: I agree entirely. Each of us has to use our judgement about whether or not a charity is worthwhile subscribing to. I never said otherwise. In fact, I believe I was alone for quite a while in making that very assertion. The key phrase being "use our judgement".

And no, I don't EVER believe that generous impulses are misguided. What may be misguided is the channelling of those impulses. all I have been suggesting is that people put a little more effort into "helping".

I raised the issue of "selfish 'generous' impulses" elsewhere, for that very reason. I still believe that most charitable donations serve a need in the doner, rather than being driven by genuine altruistic impulses. For me, that situation, opens up many opportunities for corruption - in many areas and on many levels, including those where the corrupt individual is unaware of his own 'wrongdoing'. And certainly in the heart of the donor.

However, I don't limit that thinking to only charities. I believe each voter should put in the necessary effort to ensure the accountability of those he put into office (or didn't put in but assisted in putting in by dint of calling himself a citizen and benefitting thereby). Each parent should be a thorn in the side of each less-than-optimum school board. Each NHS contributor should be an NHS watchdog and never accept being made to keep an appointment then wait for hours. It's sheer bad manners, if nothing else.

People should observe, consider, and complain vociferously if necessary. People should be responsible for ALL their actions. People can't be bothered. People take the path of least resistance to satisfying their own emotional demands. Chink! Thank you, sir! And a very Merry Christmas to you sir!

(Oh, I know people won't. This is just for hypothetical discussion purposes.)

Angela_F said...

Billstickers: "I still believe that most charitable donations serve a need in the doner, rather than being driven by genuine altruistic impulses. For me, that situation, opens up many opportunities for corruption - in many areas and on many levels, including those where the corrupt individual is unaware of his own 'wrongdoing'. And certainly in the heart of the donor."

OK, I admit it. I have an interest in raising money for the HDA. It funds research that might help cure me and my mum (and has helped fund research that will protect my kids, grandkids etc through PGD IVF), it provides services that help my mum, it provides me with a newsletter and an annual conference to tell me about everything that is going on, it provides admin to help support all this. OK I don't know how much money goes to what.

But because I need and value this service, both me and my partner have direct debits set up to provide regular financial support to sustain it for me and for other people.

Again, here I am not being completely altruistic. But if I don't give my own money to it, if I don't jump out of a plane to raise money and awareness (both of which being in their own way equally useful), who will? People opt to support the charities that are close to their heart. I would be very surprised if someone feeling generally altruistic and wanting to pick a "worthwhile" charity to help, would pick the HDA. Not because it isn't worthwhile but because it is so far on the fringes of people's knowledge. People think of cancer first or AIDS or childline. And there nothing wrong with that - I myself have done a 5km run for breast cancer and I don't know anyone with the illness. (I confess again to this not being altruistic - I wanted to go on an organised run with some friends, and that was about it for me really.)

But I personally think that when the Government and the NHS are failing to provide badly needed services, then someone has to stand up and be counted. Someone has to raise the money for charity, and I honestly do not care if that person is doing it for their own personal reasons (such as myself) because everybody still benefits. I apologise if this makes me corrupt in the process but I think that people like myself are invaluable to charities like the HDA, and without us it would be very difficult to survive.

Thank you very much to all my sponsors - it means more than you could ever imagine as it gives me hope.

anticant said...

BS: EVERYTHING anyone does serves a need in them! There ain't no such thing as totally detached, objective altruism, any more than there is any such thing as a totally disembodied all-seeing cyber brain [neither God nor billstickers].

And gosh! If you are really advising Mrs. Kitanga Nboli, I bet you have a finger in the Saudi Princes' pie too. In which case, after yesterday's stunning success, you can surely afford £25 grand in support of Angela's parachute jump. And yes, thanks for the invitation, I do look forward to meeting up with you and the Blairs at Sir Cliff's West Indies villa in the New Year....

Angela_F said...

Ooooh £25K.

I get you could pay for a great big chunk of a research project with that! : )

Toby Lewis said...

Bill - I find your notion of responsibility rather odd. Might it not be more responsible in the NHS case to assume that the service is having temporary problems and wait patiently? The problem is people now complain (and litigate) about every little thing, which often isn't an individuals fault but leads eventually to a far more restricted society. Our failure to know the boundaries between the important and the unimportant, things that should be ignored and things that should cause a protest mean we have rules in the West tying our hands for everything.

billstickers said...

Angela_f, I know I didn't mention charity fundraisers above (although they too could become corrupt where little regulation and control exists). I fully understand why you would select HDA as your main charity focus. Although a cyberghost, I am not totally unconversant with human nature. However, you'll probably still see where your choices could still be considered corrupt, in the big picture sense (a type of corruption that we all suffer from).

None of my comments on this issue should be seen as judgements on human nature, yours or mine, but part of a discussion on what would constitute the perfect scenario. I believe that striving for or even thinking about perfection should make us improve.

I think you'd find my comments easier to take if you considered for a minute how much you really know about where your own donations go and how they are used. Surely, you can see the need for as much control over that as possible? Then again, control and regulation costs money. I wonder if we have any real choice but to hope and trust.

billstickers said...

Wouldn't have believed you'd require an invitation from me, anticant. I'm beginning to doubt Mrs Nboli's authenticity actually, but the moment I get my 3 million cut you can be sure I'll send along the 25K. (You couldn't see your way to lending me 100 grand for the good lady's banking expenses, could you?)

I agree with you on the total altruism, but would go further to say that people are basically selfish. Even if they wouldn't admit it, everyone's natural tendency is towards a SELF - Family - Village - Country/Race - Species agenda.

I believe that we won't solve any of our problems, at any level, either here, on CiF, or anywhere else, until we individually reverse that agenda.

That's also why I find the teachings in a certain book to represent the way to perfection Sadly, it's unattainable in humans). If a person could reach that level of perfection he'd have to be God.

billstickers said...

Temporary problems, Toby? I wonder what the future funding outlook is for the NHS.

And no, I don't think to wait patiently while things are going to the dogs is the correct attitude.

If anticant's being made to wait for an hour or more, on each hospital visit, amongst a crowd of people all with the same appointment, represents temporary problem, then why doesn't someone come forward and give the reason for that problem and a likely date for its future resolution?

If the NHS was a private concern, in competition with similar service providers, it would have gone belly up a long time ago. You can't treat paying customers like that and get away with it - unless you hold a monopoly, at least in a given sector.

Now, if paying customer anticant stood up and asked why he was being made to wait, would the authorities hurry to send a rep to address his complaint? Or would some nurse or staffer tell him to sit down and be quiet?

The sooner the "chin up, there's a war on" and the "government provided services are free" mentalities are made history the better.

anticant said...

Is all selfishness bad? Adam Smith said it was selfishness that made the world go round. Not to mention Ayn Rand.

Your preoccupation with perfection, Bill, makes me wonder whether you are Plato's Ghost. This might well be canvassed on my Xmas Quiz [step forward, harrystarks].

As a matter of record, I am far happier with the quality of the NHS consultants' services, despite the tedious waiting, than I was with some very expensive private care at the beginning of my illness. I never got a specific diagnosis, though I had umpteen tests and scans, and was eventually discharged as "cured" ten days before I had a severe relapse and went to the NHS who spared no effort to pinpoint my condition, which they rapidly did.

I think this concrete experience far outweighs your abstract theorising. But then you don't believe in illness, any more than I believe you are a cyberghost.

billstickers said...

I'm not preoccupied with perfection. I just think that's a better thing to shoot for than the opposite (which seems to be the trend, in many areas, today.)

If you didn't get good service at the private clinic, you should have complained. If something is chronically wrong with the NHS (insensitive appointment system, wait for treatment and surgery, etc.) you should complain about it.

Again, the problem is what people have gotten used to, and the culture that applauds the long-sufferer as some kind of hero.

There's nothing heroic about accepting institutionalised, bureaucratic crap without a murmur.

I haven't said that selfishness is bad. I've been careful not to make a judgement on that. I'm trying to find out if it's a) inevitable in human society, and b) good or bad for that society. Perhaps it makes the world go round. Perhaps it's what's leading the world into the abyss.

If we could just put me to one side for a couple of years, we might get somewhere with those questions. Or other questions.

anticant said...

I was very angry at the way I was dealt with by a top Harley Street consultant, and would have liked to have complained. But when it came to the crunch, I was too ill to muster the effort and go through all the added stress.
They trade on that. Nearly all the people working in either the NHS or private practice aren't ill themselves - or at least, not seriously enough ill always to empathise with those who are.

There are different varieties of selfishness, good and bad. I believe that nearly all actions are motivated by a degree of selfishness. Of course there are exceptions, such as the hero who sacrifices their own life to save others, but they are few and far between.

Why do you want to be put to one side for a couple of years? You don't hinder the search for answers - you raise many of the pertinent questions. And your intelligence - even though too abstract at times - would be sorely missed.

Now there's a nice positive stroke for you to start the day with!

zola said...

Godamit : Is this an Emmerdale Farm Bildung in the making? Charity, poor dear, with Billsknickers running amok yet again.

I agree with the Duckie : bring back the real Grim Grimms tales of olde.