| September 11, 2019 12:43 PM
As the saying goes, money has no smell. It might not be woke to admit it, but old white guys have come up with some pretty cool ideas, such as gravity, industrial revolutions, and even the hamburger.
These are useful things to recall in light of the controversy over the MIT Media Lab and money from the late, disgraced Jeffrey Epstein. Critics have berated MIT for taking his money even though they may have known something was up. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter where the money came from because it still spends the same.
We’ve got the money and we can do good with it. As long as the money isn’t received with undue reverence for its source, who the heck cares where it came from?
Yes, Epstein was almost certainly a crook and a rapist. But why shouldn’t the MIT Media Lab take his money? Why is the New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow leading the charge against their doing so? Even if Epstein was brokering donations from other rich (and possibly crooked or at least unsavory) men, well, it’s money that can be used for good purposes nonetheless.
Whatever nefarious activity made the money in the first place, it’s still a command over resources that the MIT lab can use to good effect. Sometimes the argument isn’t even about how the donor made the money, but rather unrelated things they also did that call their reputation into dispute. In this situation, critics miss the mark even more.
For instance, if Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar returned from the dead to donate money for the Bahamian hurricane clean up, the correct answer is just, “Thank you.” Then go spend the money on cleaning up the Bahamas, and caring for those now homeless and destitute. We can still punish Escobar, but we’ll be able to do good things with his money as well.
The same applies to the Sackler family of Purdue Pharma infamy. As I write, it looks like Purdue Pharma is going to go into bankruptcy over its role in creating the opioid crisis. Still, the family obviously profited from the success of the company, and they’ve sent a lot of that money to various art museums around the world.
Some say the money should not have been accepted, or even, at times, that it must be returned. To them I ask: Why? That would only make the Sacklers richer.
We must decide what do we actually want to happen to such ill-gotten gains. Would we prefer people don’t give their money away? Should they instead keep the cash to spend on Ferraris and better only their own lives? Obviously not. We should hope to see that money put to good use.
Sure, shout and complain about how the money was made. Prosecute, shun, round up the criminals, and roll up their illicit money-making networks. But the money itself isn’t tainted. Money is a thing with no motives, no morals and, most importantly, no smell.
Tim Worstall (@worstall) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is a senior fellow at the Adam Smith Institute. You can read all his pieces at The Continental Telegraph.