Lost Charity

This Obit made me sad:

Alex Grass, 82, who founded Rite Aid and built it into one of the nation’s largest drugstore chains, died Aug. 27  … By the time he stepped down as the company’s chairman and chief executive in 1995, Rite Aid was the nation’s largest drugstore chain in terms of total stores and No. 2 in terms of revenue. …

Grass was a philanthropist who contributed to civic, health and educational organizations. His legacy includes a $14.5 million medical building named after him at PinnacleHealth’s Harrisburg Hospital and $1.5 million to establish the Alex Grass School of Business Leadership at Harrisburg Area Community College.  Mr. Grass also contributed $1.5 million to the University of Florida, where he earned his law degree, to establish a chair for its Center for Jewish Studies and build a new law school building.

When we look back on people in the past and what they did that we are thankful for, creating innovative products, processes, and organizations should come out near the top; that is mainly what made us rich.  And on that count Alex Grass is a hero.

But when folks like Alex spend their later years trying to “do good” with the millions they were paid for actually doing good, they usually end up pissing it away.  We already have too much medicine and academia, because such things are mainly wasteful signals.  We didn’t need and shouldn’t be thankful for more hospital wings or lecture halls.  Imagine how much more good could have been done instead via millions spent trying to make more innovative products or organizations.

Of course most innovations attempts fail, and that wouldn’t have looked so good for Mr. Grass.   I’m sure those hospital wings and lecture halls came with grand ceremonies attended by folks in his social circle, saying what a great guy he was.  And I expect people in his social circle are more likely than most to actually use those hospital wings and lecture halls; he was showing loyalty to his clan by buying such things.

But when I think of all the good that could be done by philanthropists who actually wanted more to do good than to look good, it makes me sad.  At it doesn’t make me sympathetic toward the tax deductions and other social support our society offers for these wasteful signals.

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