Volunteers cause homelessness, claims Hedge Fund Manager

4950640437_f1d6997864_nAndy Kessler, founder of the billion-dollar Palo Alto investment firm Velocity Capital Management, thinks that homelessness in the United States is caused by the people who volunteer at homeless shelter. The hedge fund manager took to the Wall Street Journal to condemn volunteering.

He opens with the story of a couple he meets at an airport in San Francisco. They are waiting to pick up their daughter who just traveled to volunteer in Guatemala, not to attend camp much to Kessler’s dismay. He criticizes the millions spent on volunteering projects and says the money could have been invested in a local entrepreneur.

Kessler then wags his crotchety old man finger at the younger generations who have it all.

I understand that overbearing parents encourage their children toward such do-good interludes, hoping that it will get them into Brown, but why does this generation go along with it? My take: Because they have it all. The baby-boom generation gave way to the slacker Gen-Xers, followed by Gen-Y and now we’ve moved up the alphabet to Gen-G—for Guilty.

It is not the first time Kessler has voiced his disdain for things that are new. He took a swipe at Wikipedia in an OpEd for the New York Times in 2007.

There are plenty of things I don’t trust – like Wikipedia. I’ve watched my 15-year-old son and his friends take turns editing the page for the animated film “Land Before Time,” flipping the gender of the character Littlefoot from he to she and back.

The solution is business. Economic growth will change the world, says Kessler in the WSJ.

[O]bsessing over carbon footprints and LEED certifications and free-range strawberries and charging for plastic bags will not help the world nearly as much as good old-fashioned economic growth.

Kessler displays his mode of thinking by raising questions about his son’s decision to volunteer at a local homeless shelter.

My 16-year-old son volunteers with an organization that feeds the homeless and fills kits with personal-hygiene supplies for them. It’s a worthwhile project, and I tell him so—but he doesn’t like it when our conversation on the way to his minimum-wage job turns to why these homeless folks aren’t also working. Perhaps, I suggest, because someone is feeding, clothing and, in effect, bathing them?

In the mind of Kessler the problem of homelessness is one of dependency. People remain homeless because shelters provide everything they need. He manages to casually dismiss the possibility that other facts can contribute to homelessness. Dependency is one problem, but his argument hearkens back to the Reagan idea of welfare queens.

Volunteering, domestic and international, is far from perfect. Money can be better spent by making investments or donations. It is the fact that Kessler views poverty as a simple problem with simple solutions that is the problem. It is the fact that Kessler ignores how his actions play and decisions affect others is the problem. It is the fact that Kessler is disconnected that prevents him from understanding the problems of poverty. Though he has no problem spouting his nonsensical ideas in the likes of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

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About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.