DWAYNE “The Rock” Johnson and Oprah Winfrey have tag-teamed to raise funds for those affected by the wildfires in Hawaii. At least 115 people have been killed as a result of the disaster, and it’s expected that number will climb higher still.

The pair’s decision to raise money to help those affected seems, on the surface, such a gesture of goodwill that I doubt they were expecting to find themselves the sudden subject of such intense criticism.

And yet, negative responses to the announcement have been trending across social media giant TikTok since the fund was announced a few days ago.

While most mainstream news outlets have focused on the potential aid the duo’s “People’s Fund of Maui” will provide – something I don’t doubt will have a positive impact on the people of Lahaina and beyond – others have instead raised valid questions over the roles the ultra-wealthy have assigned themselves, while the economic theory of capitalism continues to buckle under the strain of generations of wealth inequality.

The National:

As someone who grew up in Paisley, I know well the outcomes of philanthropy. It’s a town that’s hard to navigate without butting up against a public building or institution that bears the Coats family name carved into the stone.

And while those philanthropic endeavours were to the benefit of the town, the hard reality is that such wealth came from the exploited labour of Paisley’s mill workers – and that had it stayed in the pockets of those whose work produced such generous profits, there may have been less need for such grand gestures in the first place.

With wealth accumulating to such monumental degrees in the hands of so few, as it continues to do now at a pace inconceivable during the time of Thomas Coats and the Ferguslie Thread Works, it behoves us all to ask why the ultra-wealthy are mobilising to help while neutral public funds run dry.

On the subject of public services and humanitarian efforts, it seems to me that a well-funded system beyond the whims of billionaires would be preferable. Indeed, it seems more like luck than anything else that the interests of Paisley’s historic ruling class were aligned to the public good, and the same can be said still today.

READ MORE: Hawaii governor vows to block land grabs as fire-ravaged Maui rebuilds

Bluntly, philanthropic endeavours can be seen as driven by ego or from a public relations perspective. Even more bluntly, they are a misplaced attempt at ensuring the ultra-rich do not find themselves in a disagreement with Madam Guillotine.

Unfortunately for Oprah and Dwayne, their donation (or rather, the pledge that they will donate in the future) came with an ask for money from the public that felt, in the current economic crisis, like a bit of a twist of the knife.

It’s for much the same reason that when the self-service machines in McDonald’s ask for your tax-deductible charitable donations – for a business that posted nearly $14 billion in profit last year while paying staff near minimum wage – the feelings that come to mind cannot be described as particularly charitable.

The backlash seems born from a similar place – not from the “politics of envy” as I’m sure some will decide, but from a position of asking questions about the role that such incredible wealth plays in deciding which causes get support – and which do not.

A donation of £100 is wholly outwith the reach of many on low incomes in the UK, while $5 million from Oprah means next to nothing to her. On the surface, it seems like an exceptional amount, but with an estimated net worth of $2.5 billion, to her it’s basically the equivalent to what a normal person would spend on coffee each day.

READ MORE: Humza Yousaf confirms SNP will meet to discuss Fergus Ewing's future

I suspect that between them and their friends, a quick call around would raise enough money to rebuild the damaged areas of Hawaii outright – and would maybe go a little way in addressing the concerns of Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians) who have being priced out of their ancestral homeland thanks to rich celebrities buying up land in the area, including Oprah herself, who owns more than 2000 acres on Maui.

Like I said, I don’t doubt that money is coming from a good place. But it also comes from a place of being deeply out of touch with what most people are experiencing in 2023. Prices are up. Real-terms wages are down. Things are difficult across the board.

According to economist Jeffrey Sachs, the total cost per year to bring extreme poverty globally to an end, would be about $175 billion. That figure represents less than 1% of the combined income of the richest countries in the world. A tax of just 5% on the world’s multi-millionaires and billionaires could reach that figure alone.

But instead of well-funded public services, better safety nets, better means of responding to natural and humanitarian disasters, and a fairer redistribution of wealth, we instead rely on the whims of the wealthy to occasionally throw us a bone – a parcel of cash that is beyond anything we could realistically conceive of ourselves, but which to them is so little as to pass without notice.