We cannot give what we do not have. A holistic view of philanthropy takes into account both how we obtain our resources and how we expend our resources. Philanthropy is both together; one is not possible without the other, and yet we regularly act as if philanthropy is only about the money we give away.
This fragmented view of philanthropy risks compromising the values we claim to stand for. Wilson would have us believe that it is perfectly consistent to make wealth one’s chief aim during the first half of life, only to change that aim to philanthropy in the second half of life. But the values inherent in these two pursuits are disjointed, if not totally opposed to one another. Making wealth our highest priority (or at least a higher priority than giving) will inevitably cause us to act in ways that are antithetical to “the love of humanity”.
Wendell Berry knows this viscerally. In his 2012 Jefferson Lecture, Berry recounts the story of his grandfather, a small Kentucky farmer who spent his working life at the mercy of the American Tobacco Company (ATC), which was founded by James B. Duke. The ATC, as Berry put it, “had eliminated all competitors and thus was able to reduce as it pleased the prices it paid to farmers.” This made life very hard for the Berry family and countless other tobacco farmers across the U.S.