The problem with billionaires bearing liberal gifts

An unlikely partnership between politically opposed billionaires raises questions about the role money plays in …  everything.

Credit: Michael Spilotro/IMF Staff Photograph

Perhaps the most surprising news this week is the unlikely partnership between two billionaires who represent opposite sides of the political spectrum. George Soros, the billionaire known for his liberalism, is partnering with the far-right Charles Koch to fund a Washington think tank that will promote a non-interventionist foreign policy. 

Stephen Kinzer, a senior fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University, describes his reaction to the announcement in  an op-ed for the Boston Globe:

“The depth of this heresy can only be appreciated by recognizing the meretricious power that nourishes Washington’s think-tank ecosystem… In foreign policy, all major Washington think tanks promote interventionist dogma: the United States faces threats everywhere, it must therefore be present everywhere, and “present” includes maintaining more than 800 foreign military bases and spending trillions of dollars on endless confrontations with foreign countries.” 

The Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, as it will be known, will be led by a number of critics of American foreign policy, including Trita Parsi, the former president of the National Iranian American Council. Parsi said:

“It shows how important ending endless war is if they’re willing to put aside their differences and get together on this project. We are going to challenge the basis of American foreign policy in a way that has not been done in at least the last quarter-century.”

One of the loudest critics of billionaires bearing liberal gifts is Anand Giridharadas. In his book Winners Take All: the elite charade of changing the world, the former McKinsey consultant turned social critic attempts to answer the question: “What is the relationship between the extraordinary elite generosity of our time, which is real, and the extraordinary elite hoarding of our time?” Giridharadas’s conclusion: that elite generosity is a partner of elite hoarding.

The billionaires’ partnership raises the issue of the role of money in, well, just about everything, explains Kelsey Piper in an article for Vox. 

Institutional pushback against “endless war” feels like a relief and a welcome change in Washington, D.C., but one should temper one’s reaction with a healthy skepticism of billionaires who want to shape the world. 

Jessica McKenzie

Jessica McKenzie is a freelance journalist in Brooklyn, NY. Previously, she was the managing editor of the civic technology news site Civicist and interned at The Nation magazine. You can follow her on Twitter @jessimckenzi.