Oil and Wine

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Warren Buffett’s enormous gift to the Gates Foundation recalled an unhappy memory for me.

Once, when·· I lived in Delhi, a heavily pregnant woman suddenly appeared and started to live in
the corner of a market. I called up many charity institutions (including Mother Teresa’s) to get them to
take her to a place of safety. None was interested. Some completely ignored what I had called them for
and asked me if I would be interested in contributing some money to them. I said I would give them
money for this particular woman’s upkeep, and some extra. But they still weren’t interested. I was very o willing to take the part of the Good Samaritan, but they weren’t even willing to play the innkeeper whom the Good Samaritan pays to care for the injured man. What they cared about was their own institutions.

I could have picked up the woman myself and taken her to some organization, but it is very likely that if I had done that, the state would have swung into immediate action. I suspect that the police would have tried to arrest me either for raping her or for human trafficking, so they could fleece some money out of me. If I managed to avoid immediate arrest, the heartless institutions would probably have refused to accept her. Just in case they didn’t ignore me, they would have interrogated me to death, and I might have spent many days in the ugly alleys of the Indian bureaucracy. Society would certainly have assumed that I was a culprit who managed to escape by paying bribes.

The woman ·gave birth in the market to a child with a crooked leg. A couple of years later, having given birth to another child, a product of entertainment, I am sure, that she was forced into providing to taxi drivers and the police, she disappeared as suddenly as she had appeared. All she needed was the oil and wine of the biblical story, which cost very little even by Indian standards, and a compassionate society – not billions of dollars in social programs.

There are some great people and great charity organizations in India, and elsewhere. But large amounts of money convert charity into an ugly business, as the money soon becomes disassociated from the intended ‘product” of charity. Somehow I have more respect for corrupt and evil people than for those who sugarcoat their evil or mere laziness in institutionalized “social causes.” At least the former have some spine. They don’t create a moral morass.

I wonder what Gates and Buffett are like. Are they just ignorant about what will happen with their money? Or is their true intention to look saintly even if it means harming society?

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