Saturday, 18 December 2010


This year, the time has come. In the past years, before Christmas I promised myself to share some of my wealth with the ones in need. I know, it is a but hypocritical, it is done only around Christmas, because everyone else does it and later people forget for the rest of the year. In the past years my low income was a lame excuse to confine to a few zlotys, this year I decided it was high time to endow some foundations and charities. I began to earn some “real” money, next year my earnings will be really decent, so apart from paying taxes which are aimed at redistributing wealth, I should help my fellow men off my own bat.

In the past days, when I had some free time (scarce commodity) I have pondered upon this issue. The topic triggers a lot of questions, concerning legitimacy, percentage of income that should be shared with others, discretion, moral duty and many more.

Virtually everyone agrees the disadvantaged should be given aid. Opinions how to do it wisely vary. In socialists’ view, the state should be solely responsible for redistributing wealth. The richer should under constraint pay not only higher taxes, but should also give to the state apparatus a higher percent of their income. Liberals, in turn, claim it should be the civil society that takes over function of helping the poor. People, as they say, can set up foundations and charity organisations and endowing them should be a moral duty.

Both approaches have substantial downsides. The statist one assumes the state is omnipotent and will allocate the collected resources effectively. This is impossible – the whole bureaucratic apparatus costs too much and will never be effective – once we had such system in which the state oversaw everything and it failed. The liberal one carries a naïve assumption people will be ready to share their wealth with the worse-off, which is overtly false. Most people are greedy and even if they do it, they will give out only a tiny percent of their earnings. Here there is a fix for it. In many Anglo-Saxon societies donating large sum to charities is a benchmark of one’s social status. There is some bit of pressure from society. But if it was not about boasting about the endowment on a party, would they be ready to give their money away that eagerly? I realise it is better that giving no money at all; no matter if the well-off outbid one another who donates more, the disadvantaged benefit from this. My take on the issue is similar to my view of CSR – most companies do it to maintain a good image, not because they care about those parentless children. Mechanics of the endowment is identical – people do it because they care about their prestige, benevolence is just a side effect.

And I have also realised that even if I was most open-handed I could afford, my contributions would still be hypocritical. I could not sympathise with beneficiaries of my help, just because I have never experienced homelessness, famine, shortage of money, severe illness or any other kind of misery. No big tragedy has affected me yet, my family have, thank God, never been destitute. But on the other hand, as I have also never experienced luxuries, I feel I am in between. Much above me are those whose opulence would dazzle me, much below are those whose poverty is beyond my comprehension. Probably the bigger the gap is, the harder it is to take in a fellow man’s woe.

In addition, giving money is taking the path of least resistance. I may have fewer banknotes in my wallet, by bank account may be credited and the strain is over. Good deed is done, conscience is clear. It is not that simple, as long as I still avert experiencing misery.

Also a man’s wealth determines his problems. For people who struggle to make ends meet, the problem might be if they will not run out of cash to buy bread for children. For those a bit better off, who surely can afford to stock up on bread and smoked hams, the problem might be paying for a child’s school trip abroad. The richer you are, the further from scraping along your problems are. A reason to complain for my colleagues might be that they can afford only a suit for 1,000 PLN rather than five times more expensive one. Or, as this year, that the Christmas bonus was not an equivalent of new compact car’s value, as it was in the years of prosperity (2006 or 2007).

Yesterday I had a Christmas party in my office. It was thrown in an empty unfinished sizeable room in our office building in the very centre of Warsaw. Looking outside the windows could you see Palace of Culture, hotels, busy streets full of well-off people running pre-Christmas errands in haste. Food and drink was in abundance, everyone was pleased to get together… I wonder if I was the only one who thought about families who cannot make ends meet during the party. Once again the Band Aid’s song reverberated in my head…

It's Christmas time
There's no need to be afraid
At Christmas time, we let in light and we banish shade
And in our world of plenty we can spread a smile of joy
Throw your arms around the world at Christmas time

But say a prayer
Pray for the other ones
At Christmas time it's hard, but when you're having fun
There's a world outside your window
And it's a world of dread and fear
Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears
And the Christmas bells that ring there
Are the clanging chimes of doom
Well tonight thank God it's them instead of you

And there won't be snow in Africa this Christmas time
The greatest gift they'll get this year is life
Where nothing ever grows
No rain nor rivers flow
Do they know it's Christmas time at all
Here's to you raise a glass for everyone
Spare a thought this Yuletide for the deprived
If the table was turned would you survive
Here's to them underneath that burning sun
You ain't gotta feel guilt, just selfless
Give a little help to the helpless
Do they know it's Christmas time at all
Feed the world, feed the world, feed the world
Feed the world, feed the world
Let them know it's Christmas time again

Does anyone hear “the clanging chimes of doom”?
Is anyone thankful “tonight thank God it's them instead of you”?

But Polish bankers are not as spoilt as their counterparts from the City or Wall Street. Here the banking system is totally different (in Poland investment banking is just fledging and will never develop for good after Mr Crisis spelled the death of it) – there is no such depravity, earnings and bonuses are not sky-high and expectations are different. More about one depiction of London’s bankers circle in the New Year’s Day post!


dave_dc said...

It makes me wonder what Karol really needs.

student SGH said...

Dave, believe me, I've been thinking about him for a couple of days. I would even send him and his family Christmas wishes, if I only knew what to write.

I would know what to write, if, in turn, I knew what the reason behind his behaviour was, but I can only speculate about it. And before they tell or signal why this all has happened I won't take any steps.

Debt relief? Yes, but when things clear up, or when they pay some of the debt, not earlier. Sorry to say that, Christmas is not the time to waive rules...