Legend v. Cuban: A Twitter Battle Royale Over Philanthropy?

Some days—certainly not every day—I love Twitter.

I mean, where else can you see an entertainment superstar and a billionaire mogul go toe-to-toe, peppering each other with 280-character jabs?  

That is precisely what happened on November 12 when John Legend picked an online fight with Mark Cuban over the subject of philanthropy (of all things).

It all started when Cuban tweeted out a call for people to stop stuffing campaign war chests and to instead donate to food banks. Specifically, he was referencing the hotly contested Georgia Senate run-off races that will determine the balance of power in the United States Senate. Cash on both sides is flooding into the state of Georgia and will likely break Senate election fundraising records. 

“For those considering donating to Reps or Dems in the Georgia Senate run-offs, can you please re-consider and donate that money to your local foodbank and organizations that can help those without food or shelter? Lets (sic) put Americans in need above Politics,” he wrote. 

It took the EGOT winner Legend all of two minutes to take issue. And back and forth they went. 

Legend: “I get that politics is annoying and contentious but the bottom line is that the Senate flipping would be far more impactful than a food bank donation. We need massive stimulus and aid to individuals and small businesses. Government needs to do this. Charity isn’t sufficient.” 


 “That said, I’ll be doing both.”  


Cuban: “Let’s go all the way. Stop donating to charity, give those $ to politicians because 1 party will solve all of our problems! Come on John. There is a point of diminishing returns on political ad spend, there are no diminished returns when it comes to feeding the hungry.”  

Left hook to the body

Legend: “Agree that there is a point of diminishing returns to political ad spending. So we should choose whether or not to donate with that in mind. But charity isn’t going to be sufficient to address all the suffering out there. We need big spending that only governments can do at scale.” 

Swing and a miss

Then 90s part-time actor and comedian Tom Arnold stepped in. (I’m telling you. You can’t make this stuff up!) “We will use all of our money to flip the Senate so people will get all the food all the time.” 

Kicked out of the ring to much applause

Cuban then lamented the influence of money in politics and suggested that individuals drain the political system of their hard-earned wealth and instead give the money to those in need.  

A better return on investment, he reasoned. 

And then the bell rang

Now, if I’m scoring the fight, Cuban likely wins on points, but he missed the chance to deliver the knock-out punch. Because John Legend is dead wrong when he suggests social problems are best solved by “big spending that only governments can do.” 

When it comes to the efficiency and effectiveness of government programs versus the combination of capitalism and philanthropy, it’s not even close. 

According to a study by Cambridge University Press comparing the efficiency of government programs and private organizations when the same service was made available by both, in 76 percent of the cases, the private organization was found to be more cost-effective

When asked whether they trust the government or nonprofit organizations to solve “the most pressing issues of our time,” 71 percent of Americans pick the nonprofits. 

Why? Because the philanthropic and charitable sectors are generally nimble, efficient, responsive, and customized, while government programs tend to be clunky, wasteful, slow, and generic.  

There is no disputing the importance of elections. They do have consequences. But Legend left himself wide open to a haymaker by going all-in on bloated government bureaucracy while dismissing philanthropy and capitalism. 

And Cuban let him off the hook. 

Boxing metaphor aside, at the end of the day this was a rather healthy Twitter exchange between two people who happen to have very different worldviews. Neither participant got personal. Neither suggested the other did not have a right to his opinion. Neither lobbed any insults.  

And I, for one, would welcome a rematch.

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