Abandon privilege? Will world-builders do this?

Darren Walker, the President of the Ford Foundation, was on 60 Minutes last night. Walker is a tremendous story in that he’s an African-American gay male who rose up from a two-room shack in east Texas to be a king of the New York City virtue-bombing philanthropy scene, including a salary of $1M/year and a past on Wall Street as a crack bond sales guy. Most people from where Darren is from, who look like Darren does, can’t get that far. But he did, and thus he’s a great topper for the Ford Foundation, a major player in American grant-giving. (Global, actually.)

The 60 Minutes piece points to this article he wrote in June 2020 (pandemic, pandemic!) for New York Times about giving up privilege. The article makes a lot of great points and uses flowery language, but very little of it is possible to achieve, especially in a short-to-intermediate term time window. To wit, Walker writes this:

In 1982, a Securities and Exchange Commission rule allowed corporations to repurchase their stock. This created an environment in which companies accelerated their use of stock options and equity as forms of executive compensation, especially after the 2008 financial crisis. This has encouraged companies to increase share prices, at the expense of wages and benefits for workers, and created perverse incentives for companies to authorize buybacks. In 2018 alone, American companies spent more than $1 trillion repurchasing their own stock.

Our economy is unbalanced because conscious choices, in the aggregate, amount to a conscienceless capitalism. These choices erode democracy and foment distrust. We, the people, can make different choices. And we, the wealthy and privileged, should lean in to our discomfort.

I agree with all this, and the facts seem accurate, although truly hardcore capitalism apologists would no doubt differ with some of the facts. The problem becomes that most “successful” people — and admittedly our definitions of success are horribly flawed, especially in America — believe they worked harder and were smarter than everyone else. They earned it. Most global CEOs think everything comes back to work ethic, which is how we got the “bootstraps” theory of economic development.

So go to a world-builder rich person who sold off a company for even a “paltry” sum like $100M. Say this to them: “Lean into your discomfort.”

Unless that person is unbelievably self-aware, like on another level of self-awareness, they will call security to have you removed. Because why should they “lean into discomfort?” They built something that someone else was willing to pay $100M for. That’s intelligence. That’s hustle. That’s grit. That’s ethic. They deserve that money; it was earned. So they’re going to give up the perks and trappings that come with it? Please.

Now go to them and say “give up your privilege.” They might legitimately stab you in the femur.

I don’t believe in the idea of “get rich or die trying” — I feel like the goal of life is actually “find friends and die with some good memories from that arc” — but a lot of people do think it’s all a game, and a game to be conquered and won, and the “winnings” are predominantly fiscal and material. Once you’ve achieved those, and your brain has cemented to the idea that you achieved those because of some natural betterment of others over others, there is no way you’re going to chase discomfort, except perhaps in the form of one less mimosa at brunch.

So while the ideas are good, they don’t line up with brain science and human thinking at all.


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