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We should be thankful for “dirty” donations

An “Oxy Dollar” distributed during a 2019 protest against the Sacklers in New York state. Erik McGregor/LightRocket/Getty

The return of the Sackler family to philanthropy is being reported as an “outrage”, says Sam Leith in The Spectator. Really? True, the family made a fortune getting tens if not hundreds of thousands of Americans “debilitatingly addicted to OxyContin” – a pain pill dubbed “hillbilly heroin” – and took a break from charitable giving at the height of the opioid crisis. But last year they quietly gave £3.5m to British causes, including the Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra, King’s College London, and “various churches, academies and conservation projects”. What could possibly be wrong with that? “One way or another, the wages of sin are being redirected into causes of which most or all of us can approve.”

Those moaning about it are guilty of “moral narcissism”: insisting that if “baddies want to do something good”, we need to thwart rather than encourage them, so their badness remains uncomplicated and thus easier to “contrast with our own virtue”. There’s “a wisp of an argument” that such donations are a tax dodge, and another that it’s distasteful for dishonourable firms to plaster their names in “places of honour” above the wings of galleries. But we ought to be thankful that dodgy profits end up paying for something worthwhile, rather than sheltering behind a brass plaque in the Cayman Islands. Galleries and orchestras should hold their noses and “take the dirty dough with good grace”.

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