Charity begins with government

I’d like to start with a peon of praise as to how the Hospice de Beaune has raised as much as £12million for charity this year.

I notice two things since I last attended – an embarrassingly long time ago:

The auction is now run by Christies. So the auction is now properly international and as it were ‘globalised’.

It used to be locally run by an inscrutable system of lighting candles, which, when they spluttered out, signified – or, seemingly often, when there was a late notification, did not – the end of bidding.

Although this year, as usual, the majority bidders were from local négociants, and it is for this that the prices are usually trendsetters for the vintage, this year private buyers (by value) came 55% from Asia with just 38% from Europe and a mere 6.7% from America. This would appear indicative of increasing private wealth in itself  – and especially in Asia. How many of us privately, would bid for a barrel?

Further, I’ve no doubt that the money finds its way to charity eventually, and although the proceeds benefit the hospital, which is now a very modern facility on the outskirts of Beaune, with effective state care in France as elsewhere in Europe (hopefully to remain so in the UK..) Beaune is supposedly the best place in the world to be ill! There are also other good causes which receive contributions of which I, as most, am completely unaware. The original Hospice de Beaune is now a place to visit much as a National Trust house might be so it is unclear where, exactly, the excess money goes. I fear it is pretty much on the insistutionalised basis of ‘Children in Need’, where it is an excellent and decidedly overt opportunity to give generously, but shouldn’t it also be an opportunity to take stock of why precisely it is at all necessary?

Certainly the ex Afghan soldier, Aaron Bastani, thinks on those lines and has been much criticised for it. But I think that charity could well actually allow or even promote a perpetual poverty machine.

I’m afraid I’m sympathetic to this line of thought (whilst recognising that Britain is the most generous charitable contributor in the developed world) because, whilst I also give to charity, I do it with a very heavy heart, which the government could, by definition, so often and so easily – and also should, relieve.

Charity should really be for an area where the state has not yet thought it was itself necessary.

It is currently and naturally the old established, ‘heavy hitters’ which dominate the charity sector. I’m not especially proud to give (really on the basis that the British Isles are at sea!) to one of the richest, the RNLI.

Yet these ‘heavy hitters’ should surely be largely state responsibilities, whereas the innovative, lesser known charities should be the ones we all look to decide whether we should contribute to or not?


  1. Bill Hughes -

    Interesting – I tend to agree that charity may be propping up the established inequalities, allowing the rich to solve their consciences while supporting the status-quo. Also interesting is Bastaani’s criticism of the Royal British Legion where a large mount of the red poppy money goes towards inflated salaries of RBL executives. He doesn’t mention that an alternative for people who want to remember the war dead is to wear white poppies and work to end all wars.

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