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  • rmacculloch

The Decline of Western Civilization: Are the billionaires (partly) to blame?

In an interview conducted at the Hoover Institute at Stanford University, prominent historian Niall Ferguson had this to say of the topic of "doom".

"I think the answer must be that we build new institutions. Ultimately, American history is full of examples. Stanford's one of them. So is Chicago. Relatively recent foundations that rapidly rose to be in the very top flight. But the billionaires of our time are not quite like the billionaires of the Gilded Age. They're less good at starting new institutions, and I think it's time that changed. I think we need new institutions at all levels of American education, and the process of funding them has to begin soon. Otherwise ... we really are doomed".

He is referring to how John D. Rockefeller endowed the University of Chicago and Leland & Jane Stanford endowed Stanford University in California. Both are private. Both, arguably, have been by far the two leading universities this past half century in terms of their influence on the development of economics & computer science, respectively.

My impression from NZ is that these comments by Niall Ferguson apply to our case as well. Our billionaires operate thoroughly within existing institutions. They mostly have Charitable Trusts. But they typically dare not try to create new institutions, particularly to the extent doing so would attract controversy. So their donations are used within structures that the billionaires accept as given. Yet since it is those very structures which have led to poor education, and other, outcomes in the first place, their Charities achieve little in terms of profound change in the scheme of things.



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