WHEN did taking an innocent, aimless stroll through the nation's streets become such a chore?
Once, you could walk unmolested, people-watching and window-shopping as you wandered. Now you have to plot your path, like the SAS crossing a minefield. But no matter how well you think it through there is no way to avoid the assaults on your privacy, no ignoring the person who bounces towards you, clipboard in hand, and pleads for a second of your precious time.
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I am referring to the phenomenon known as chugging. It is a mongrel word, a fusion of "charity" and "mugging". A chugger, defines Chambers, is "a charity worker who approaches people on the street in an attempt to solicit regular donations". I have nothing against chuggers per se. In general, they are young people trying to pay their way through education. Nor am I antipathetic to what they're hoping to achieve; anything that will improve the parlous state of the world will get my vote if not my pounds. What I resent is their attempt to make me feel as if I've committed a crime by neglect.
The verb "solicit" is apt, with its suggestion of inducement and prostitution. One minute you are concerned with what you need to buy for tea, the next you're face to face with a cheery soul who wants to know whether you are interested in saving someone's life, sight or hearing, or whether you care about the loss of the rain forest or the Siberian tiger, the implication being that any right-thinking person would be concerned with such terrible things and would readily pledge so many coins a month to ensuring that something is done about them.
Invariably I manage to walk away unscathed, explaining that I have urgent business to attend in Fopp or Waterstones. But I go with a pang of regret in my heart. It is the same feeling I have when I pass a blanketed beggar, strategically placed next to a Cashline machine with his scrap of cardboard explaining that he has fallen on hard times through no fault of his own.
It is a complicated business, this giving. Most of us do not have such deep pockets to be able to empty them without giving it a second thought. The same does not apply to those rich folk. Take, for instance, Andrew Carnegie, the centenary of whose UK Trust is being commemorated this week at the Scottish Parliament with a series of events designed to explore his legacy. Though he died in 1919, Carnegie's influence is still significant, embracing peace and international law, education, science, libraries, ethics and philanthropy. Whatever you think of the man himself - and opinion remains sharply divided - there can be little doubt that when he decided to give away his vast wealth he inaugurated a new era in the history of philanthropy.
Carnegie's approach was at once hard-headed and altruistic. He was excoriating, for example, about his fellow millionaires who did not give away their money in their lifetimes and poured abuse on those who did give it away, but unwisely. Carnegie appreciated that it could be as difficult to give money away as it was to amass it.
"It were better for mankind that the millions of the rich were thrown into the sea," he wrote, "than so spent as to encourage the slothful, the drunken, the unworthy ... Neither the individual nor the race is improved be almsgiving ... He is the only true reformer who is as careful and as anxious not to aid the unworthy as is to aid the worthy, and, perhaps, even more so, for in almsgiving more injury is probably done by rewarding vice than by relieving virtue."
For Carnegie, philanthropy and hard graft went hand in hand. He was prepared to offer his help but only if the recipients of it were willing to do their bit. This was demonstrated when he offered to build free libraries in towns which hitherto had none. He would help but only if the public purse met his contribution. It is a philosophy that remains crucial to contemporary philanthropists. In making donations Carnegie demanded evidence that there would be a commitment from those on its receiving end.
But he was no less tough on other millionaires. With the zeal of a convert, he lambasted those who did not resolve to use their wealth for the good of the community. Moreover, he was keen that there should be a punitive inheritance tax to avoid "vain and foolish" legacies. "The day is not far distant," he thundered, "when the man who dies leaving behind him millions of available wealth ... will pass away 'unwept, unhonoured, and unsung', no matter to what uses he leaves the dross which he cannot take with him. Of such as these the public verdict will then be: 'The man who dies thus rich dies disgraced'."
As Carnegie's biographer, David Nasaw, has observed: "Carnegie had persuaded himself and his fellow multi-millionaires of the moral worthiness of their enterprises and offered them a doctrine with which they could battle with their enemies." Those enemies were hydra-headed: socialists, anarchists, communists and others who argued for a more equal distribution of wealth. Carnegie's vision was of a beneficent form of capitalism, designed to keep power in the hands of the few. As Nasaw explained: "The more wealth that landed in wise hands, the more that could be given away - wisely - by the retired capitalist acting 'as trustee and agent for his poorer brethren, bringing to their service his superior wisdom, experience, and ability to administer, doing for them better than they would or could do for themselves'."
By thus taking the initiative Carnegie was able to direct where his wealth was spent. The areas he chose were personal to him and were determined by his experience. Growing up in Dunfermline in the 1830s and 1840s, he was weaned on the poetry of Burns and romanticised tales of Scottish history. His family were active politically and kept up with news. To get on, it was imperative to be able to read and write but not everyone had the opportunity. Carnegie appreciated that he was one of the lucky ones and when he had the chance he used his capital to open access to education and knowledge for people who would otherwise have been illiterate and ignorant.
Carnegie made his money in steel-making, the profitable end product of which was used to wipe out hundreds of thousands of people during the First World War. Even after he sold his stake in Carnegie Steel he could not give away the proceeds fast enough because of the interest that accrued on the $200 million he'd made in the deal. Peace now was the bee buzzing in his bonnet and he spent his last few years as its "apostle". Today, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace carries on his campaign, its mission "to advance the cause of peace through analysis and development of fresh policy ideas and direct engagement and collaboration with decision makers". It is based in Washington with research centres in Europe, Russia, China and the Middle East.
Thus does Carnegie's legacy continue. It is a template that other philanthropists have sought to follow. Through their eponymous Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates seek to improve education and help "lift the world's poorest people out of poverty". But anyone looking for funding for projects must demonstrate that they are keen to collaborate with others, take risks and be innovative and show that what they intend to do will have a palpable effect. It is the kind of approach of which Carnegie would approve. There's nothing piecemeal or amateurish about the Gates Foundation but nevertheless it can do pretty much as it pleases. If, say, a government's approval and co-operation are not forthcoming then a way forward can be negotiated or they'll take their money elsewhere. Again, as Carnegie showed, the means are available but not at any cost. What Carnegie could not have predicted, however, is the incredible mushrooming of charities. In the first decades of the past century, charity came mainly from wealthy, well-meaning individuals or the state. In contrast, the Charities Commission lists more than 180,000 charities in England and Wales, while the Office of Scottish Charity Regulator oversees 23,634 charities. There are charities for almost everything you can think of. Key to their efficacy is the ability to raise revenue and in these straitened times the competition is fiercer than ever. This is most apparent on the high street where empty shops are filled by organisations whose raison d'etre is the rescue of cats or relieving the plight of the hard of hearing. No avenue is left unexplored, from television adverts showing children in Africa dying because of dirty water to petitions to prevent the spread of wind farms by organisations fighting for the rights of ramblers.
Bewildered by their number and confused by their motivation, one resorts to apathy, worried that one might sponsor a cause that could inadvertently harm another cause. This past week alone I've received plea to help the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Woodland Trust, Parkinson's UK, Oxfam and the Salvation Army. Meanwhile, like many others, I wonder where all the donations end up, perhaps feeding pension funds. And with such a proliferation of charities there is inevitably duplication of backroom resources and staff and overlap of activity. It is a sector in sore need of rationalisation which may yet be one of the by-products of the recession.
Wealthy individuals are no more impervious to the slings and arrows of outrageous acts by those who treat others' money as if they were playing Monopoly. It is interesting to note, however, that among those to be honoured this week with the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy - "the Nobel Prize of Philanthropy" - are Sheika Moza bin Nasser ("one of Forbes' 100 Most Powerful Women"), Sir Tom Hunter ("Scotland's first homegrown billionaire"), Dr James Harris Simons ("who founded one of the world's most successful hedge fund companies"), Dr Dmitry Zimin ("founder of the second-largest telecom business in Russia"), and Dame Janet Wolfson de Botton, whose family's wealth was based on its ownership of Great Universal Stores.
A future recipient of the Carnegie Medal may well be JK Rowling, whose Harry Potter books made her Britain's youngest, female self-made billionaire. Her income fell last year to an estimated £640 million, the result, according to Forbes magazine, of punitive taxation and charitable giving. In 2012, she is believed to have made donations of more than £100m. She is the founder of Lumos, a charity to help children around the world who are in institutional care. She has also made substantial donations which help further research into multiple sclerosis, the disease from which her mother died. Last week, she attended the opening of a multiple sclerosis research clinic at the University of Edinburgh to which she made a £10m donation.
Rowling and the others are the modern face of philanthropy. None of them would have so much money to give away had they not initially earned it. All are beneficiaries of the kind of capitalism that Carnegie espoused and which, increasingly, is gaining traction around the globe. A couple of years ago I spoke to Theodore Malloch, author of Thrift: Rebirth Of A Forgotten Virtue. Malloch's mentor was Sir John Templeton who was once described as "the greatest global stockpicker of the century". In 1992, Sir John sold his various Templeton Funds for $440m and thereafter devoted himself to giving it away. "Unless you produce wealth, save and invest that wealth," argued Malloch, "you can't in the end be philanthropic."
Of that, I think it safe to say, Andrew Carnegie would undoubtedly approve.
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