Peter Buffett, Emmy Award-winning composer and son of business magnate and philanthropist, Warren Buffett, says the charity work of America's growing nonprofit sector is fueling a "perpetual poverty machine."
The younger Buffett, who is also chairman of the NoVo Foundation, noted in a recent op-ed in the New York Times that even in the face of growing inequality, nonprofits dedicated to a whole host of charitable causes continue to increase but have done nothing more than make the rich feel better about themselves.
"Philanthropy has become the 'it' vehicle to level the playing field and has generated a growing number of gatherings, workshops and affinity groups," noted Buffet.
"As more lives and communities are destroyed by the system that creates vast amounts of wealth for the few, the more heroic it sounds to 'give back.' It's what I would call 'conscience laundering' — feeling better about accumulating more than any one person could possibly need to live on by sprinkling a little around as an act of charity," he wrote.
Citing data from the Urban Institute, Buffet noted that between 2001 to 2011 nonprofits increased in number by 25 percent; a growth rate that outstrips that of the business and government sectors.
"It's a massive business, with approximately $316 billion given away in 2012 in the United States alone and more than 9.4 million employed," explained Buffett.
Citing a phenomenon he termed "Philanthropic Colonialism," Buffett explained how the efforts of these charity organizations have created more problems than solutions through well intended efforts.
"People (including me) who had very little knowledge of a particular place would think that they could solve a local problem," wrote Buffett.
"Whether it involved farming methods, education practices, job training or business development, over and over I would hear people discuss transplanting what worked in one setting directly into another with little regard for culture, geography or societal norms," he said.
"Often the results of our decisions had unintended consequences; distributing condoms to stop the spread of AIDS in a brothel area ended up creating a higher price for unprotected sex," he said.
The more damaging result of these charitable organizations he explained, was the illusion it created that helps the rich sleep better at night.
"But this just keeps the existing structure of inequality in place. The rich sleep better at night, while others get just enough to keep the pot from boiling over," wrote Buffett. "Nearly every time someone feels better by doing good, on the other side of the world (or street), someone else is further locked into a system that will not allow the true flourishing of his or her nature or the opportunity to live a joyful and fulfilled life."
Although he didn't have the answer for a new model of charitable giving, he encouraged the formation of one to replace the one that doesn't work.
"My wife and I know we don't have the answers, but we do know how to listen. As we learn, we will continue to support conditions for systemic change. It's time for a new operating system. Not a 2.0 or a 3.0, but something built from the ground up. New code," he wrote.