Be careful what you foundation for

Be careful what you foundation for

We have lamented, for decades now, how modern-day Pittsburgh leaders are all too willing to criticize the capitalistic means by which the city’s storied forefathers built their fortunes and their philanthropies – but then all to willing to expect those same philanthropies to fund their decidedly “progressive” – and, oftentimes, anti-capitalistic – schemes that only hurt the very people the profess they will help.

Or as a most instructive recent Wall Street Journal editorial explains it:

“The 20th-century economist Joseph Schumpeter famously wrote that capitalism sows its own destruction by creating a knowledge class who despise its success.”

We would have placed the word knowledge in quotation marks.

The commentary tells the tale of the Hewlett Foundation and Omidyar Network’s recent $40 million gift “to the paupers at Harvard and MIT to ‘reimagine capitalism.’”

“Bill Hewlett and David Packard founded Hewlett-Packard in a one-car garage in Palo Alto and made it one of the world’s storied companies. Its capitalist success created wealth for shareholders and stakeholders alike, and Hewlett established his foundation to share even more of it.

“But his philanthropic legacy has become one more sad example of how the wealth of capitalist donors is hijacked by future generations of knowledge-class progressives.”

Sure sounds like Pittsburgh, doesn’t it?

The news release announcing the move to “reimagine capitalism” is nothing more than an effort to renounce capitalism by those who fail to understand it.

From the news release:

For more than 40 years, neoliberalism has dominated economic and political debates, both in the U.S. and globally, with its free-market fundamentalism and growth-at-all-costs approach to economic and social policy. [It] “offers no solutions for the biggest challenges of our time, such as the climate crisis, systemic racism, and rampant wealth inequality—and in many ways, it has made those problems even worse.

But as The Journal properly scolds:

“Actually, capitalism offers solutions to all of those challenges.

“The largest reductions in carbon emissions have come from natural gas, thanks to the market innovation of shale fracking.

“Competitive labor markets have helped minorities rise despite residual racism because bigotry is too expensive.

“The wealth created by free markets and innovation, along with global trade, has lifted billions out of poverty. Extreme global poverty has plunged to less than 10 percent from 45 percent in 1980 while world GDP has more than tripled.”

Then there’s “fast broadband and smartphones that connect with others anywhere, anytime,” the editorial reminds. And, lest we forget: “24-hour home delivery of almost anything we want; breakthrough medical treatments and vaccines; genetically engineered crops that have increased farm yields and global nutrition; cheap energy thanks to an oil and gas shale boom and a rising standard of living for most of the world,” The Journal rounds out its laundry list.

“Socialism didn’t build that,” it reminds.

Of course, it did not.

But those who think they know better will always think they know better. And they will continue to use the fruits of the labors of those who truly did know better in trusting capitalism and free markets to confront our challenges to prosecute their “progressive” fantasies that are guaranteed to be failures.

We long have attempted to be measured in our retorts to such behavior, using the words “hubris” and “ignorance” to characterize the error of their ways.

But let’s drop the pretense and simply call it what it is – stupidity.

And as the Wall Street Journal’s editorial succinctly closes:

“The Hewlett Foundation’s hard left turn is a warning to today’s successful capitalists to be wary of creating foundations or other vehicles that outlive them.

“Sooner or later, most of them are taken over by people who steer them for their own political purposes no matter the founder’s intent.

“Be careful not to finance the destruction of the system that made business success and wealth creation possible.”

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (