Pecunia non olet

There has been a stoush going on in Sydney this week, because the Sydney Biennale has accepted funds from Transfield, and Transfield is one of the companies involved in running Australia’s highly controversial immigration facilities on Nauru and Manus Island. Since I’ve been too busy writing my book to write a blog post during the last week, I’m lazily re-blogging instead a post I wrote in 2011 that addressed the general issue of tainted money:

Historians are Past Caring

The Emperor Vespasian, a notorious tightwad, once introduced a tax on urine – it was used for washing togas, and other chemical purposes.  When his son Titus objected, he said, we are told by Suetonius, ‘Pecunia non olet’ – ‘money doesn’t stink’.  But does it?

The director of the London School of Economics, Sir Howard Davies, has just resigned because he accepted a donation of £1.5m for the university from a Gaddafi foundation, just shortly after Saif Gaddafi was awarded a PhD from the LSE.  As far as I know, no cause and effect has yet been proved, but it looks bad.

Universities have a long and dishonorable tradition of accepting money from rogues and ratbags, and the odd tyrant.  In a way, it’s the Robin Hood principle at work: there’s no point in robbing from the poor, but soliciting money from the rich means cosying up to…

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