When I talk about aristocratic communism — the idea that a functional communism might be achieved by organizing and enforcing respect for the rich, on condition they distribute wealth — many people scoff and say "that's already the hell of neoliberal capitalism!"
But in fact, today, it's increasingly difficult for the wealthy to enjoy their nobless oblige, in part because it's so mediated by large sclerotic institutions. Wealthy nobles once upon a time redistributed their wealth as a kind of art form; they were like painters painting on the grandest canvas, and the enjoyment of this creative control, as well as the glory that came from being directly and visibly linked to it, were likely major incentives encouraging redistribution.
Today, the wealthy donate a lot of money through Big Philanthropy, but Big Philanthropy is better thought of as a huge bureaucratic blockage to the real social-psychological attractions of philanthropy.
Consider Tyler Cowen's recent column on Jeff Bezos, who just announced a $2 billion gift to help preschool education and homelessness.
…the gift is unlikely to take the form of Jeff Bezos dictating terms, even if he is the world’s richest man. Bezos and his team will have to work through many institutions — not just preschools and homeless shelters but other organizations that help them do their work. Even brand new preschools and homeless shelters, funded entirely by Bezos, will have their own charters, missions, staffs and fiduciary responsibilities.Tyler Cowen, Has private philanthropy become underrated?
Any wealthy person who wants to give away money will find that incentives and the nature of decentralization and bureaucracy impose their own set of checks and balances.
This supports my contention that perhaps the only thing the rich cannot get their hands on today is the invaluable experience of genuine nobility — which comes from generously and creatively supporting others and receiving respect and admiration in return. If we could engineer a way for some rich people to enjoy such true, disintermediated nobility, I think they'd become quite open to supporting a community of common folk in a fashion that approximates the classical communist ideal.
And now that I think about it, who is blocking the rich from exercising their nobless oblige? Most of the bureaucrats and meddlers working in philanthropic and humanitarian agencies and organizations generally see themselves, and present themselves, as morally progressive agents. If Bezos wants to give $2 billion to solving some big social ill, there will be dozens if not hundreds of groups who already claim to be the nobles "working on it." But these people basically own the poor and working people they seek to represent and "help." If Jane wants to give me 20 bucks but John insists that she must give it to him first, and then John gives me 10 bucks — John is not my helper. He is my owner, and he is using me to make money for himself. In short, modern society is overrun with fake nobles, who do not have resources to distribute but quite the opposite: they push the moral buttons of the populace and pull government levers to extract money from the wealthy, primarily for their own careers and identity, and only secondarily to help others. This ordering of priorities is clearly legible in the balance sheets of these organizations, which generally show most of the money going to staff and overhead. They claim to be promoting redistribution, but they happily place themselves in the way of rich people who would like to be more communist, if only they were allowed.