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Philanthrocapitalism and the whitewashing of corporate greed


Morgan Oddie

January 11, 2023
London, Ontario’s downtown is pockmarked with empty buildings decorated with Farhi signs. A holdings corporation known for speculative real estate that has resulted in dozens of empty buildingsin the city’s core, Shmuel Farhi was recently celebrated in local media for its “huge gift”of $750,000 over five years to the London Children’s Museum. 
London’s most prominent landlord said the gift was about “our children, our future.” Claiming to have donated over $30 million in the last 35 years, the company and its founder craft an imageof an altruistic and community driven business owner. However, once you scratch beneath the surface of these tall claims, all that is left is a predatory business owner trying to generate public goodwill while amassing huge amounts of wealth at the expense of the very same community.
Since 1988, Farhi has accumulated more than four million square feet of office, commercial, and residential space, as well as over 3,000 acres of land holdings and development projects in southwestern Ontario. 
A lack of municipal oversight and the province’s unwillingness to apply penalty taxes to vacant properties are certainly contributing factors in the amassing of property wealth by Farhi. But rather than challenging the vast accumulation of wealth and an underutilization of property in the time of a homelessness crisis evident in London’s downtown core, philanthropic donations obfuscate the nature of traditional capitalist investment that motivates these “gifts”. It glosses over the exploitation of the working class and the poor who suffer at the hands of the capitalism. And it does both things while framing the developer as a kind and generous person (and by extension, his namesake’s corporation) who cares about the future of the community’s youth and their museum access. 
“Philanthrocapitalism” is a term coined by Matthew Bishop and Michael Green first in a 2006 Economistarticle, later developed more fully in their book titled the same. They argue that the increasing propensity of capitalists towards charitable gifting has created a web of wealthy corporate donors who are our best hope to “saving the world.” This of course is far from the truth. As many authors including Canadian Socialist Susan Rosenthalhave shown, capitalist charity is an art of deception. The history of philanthropic giving is inextricable from its strategic capitalist underpinnings and business-oriented strategies. It is rooted in the erosion of democratic responsibility and sustains a social inability to challenge the system of accumulation that allows and requires the charity to exist in the first place. Social and financial good become inappropriate bedfellows in an era where Ontario is seeing increasing privatization of public services and attacks on workers’ rights.
A governing principle of capitalism, Marx and Engels show in the manifesto, is the tendency to move towards a state of “agglomerated population, centralised the means of production, and… concentrated property in a few hands.” Philantrocapitalism buttresses this consolidation of property and wealth and reinforces individual accumulation and consolidation of socioeconomic power. This legitimates the exploitation of workers and obfuscates the goals of corporate capitalist power. 

When predatory capitalists like Farhi actively create homelessness and poverty in their communities, and then claim to be a social force for upliftment, it is sickening. As socialists, we must continue to expose this and shine light on the exploitative core that is runs these enterprises. 
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