The troubling ethics and politics of philanthropy.
Are the announcements of Jeff Bezos or the operations of Chan Zuckerberg things we should celebrate?
Is philanthropy, by its very nature, a threat to today’s democracy? Though we may laud wealthy individuals who give away their money for society’s benefit, Just Giving shows how such generosity not only isn’t the unassailable good we think it to be but might also undermine democratic values and set back aspirations of justice. Big philanthropy is often an exercise of power, the conversion of private assets into public influence. And small philanthropy, or ordinary charitable giving, can be problematic as well. Charity, it turns out, does surprisingly little to provide for those in need and sometimes worsens inequality.These outcomes are shaped by the policies that define and structure philanthropy. When, how much, and to whom people give is influenced by laws governing everything from the creation of foundations and nonprofits to generous tax exemptions for donations of money and property.
What attitude and what policies should democracies have concerning individuals who give money away for public purposes?
Rob Reich is professor of political science and faculty codirector for the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society at Stanford University. His recent books include Education, Justice, and Democracy.