By Robert Frank
Carlos Slim has always had a complicated relationship with philanthropy.
The Mexican billionaire, who Forbes still lists as the world’s richest man, said in 2007 that he could do more to help fight poverty by building businesses than by “being a Santa Claus.”
“The only way to fight poverty is with employment,” he said. “Trillions of dollars have been given to charity in the last 50 years, and they don’t solve anything.”
As for the Giving Pledge, he said: “To give 50%, 40%, that does nothing,” Slim said. “There is a saying that we should leave a better country to our children. But it’s more important to leave better children to our country.”
In a speech in Mexico City Thursday, he reiterated his point that the best way to fight poverty is to create jobs.
Now Mr. Slim isn’t un-charitable. He has contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to his foundation and has funded millions of dollars in joint-venture projects with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
So he clearly isn’t against charity entirely. His point seems to be that society would benefit more if the wealthy channeled their creative energies and talents toward building job-creating businesses rather than doling out cash. It is the 21st century billionaire version of the old adage, “give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach him to fish and he eats for a lifetime.”
It seems obvious that the fact that Bill Gates was able to build Microsoft doesn’t equate to him understanding what the world’s most pressing problems are, let alone how to solve them.
There are those who would argue that it also doesn’t mean he knows how to run a hundred-billion dollar company, but at least he’s clearly entitled to run the company; he built it, after all. Still, the fact that he managed to achieve in business doesn’t necessarily make him a good charitable leader, and to translate his Microsoft-wealth into a similar controlling interest in charity is a bad idea.