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Gospels of Giving for the New Gilded Age | The New Yorker
"Are today’s donor classes solving problems—or creating new ones?"



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We live, it is often said, in a new Gilded Age—an era of extravagant wealth and almost as extravagant displays of generosity. In the past fifteen years, some thirty thousand private foundations have been created, and the number of donor-advised funds has roughly doubled. The Giving Pledge—signed by Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Michael Bloomberg, Larry Ellison, and more than a hundred and seventy other gazillionaires who have promised to dedicate most of their wealth to philanthropy—is the “Gospel” stripped down and updated. And as the new philanthropies have proliferated so, too, have the critiques.

Anand Giridharadas is a journalist who, in 2011, was named a Henry Crown Fellow of the Aspen Institute. The institute is financed by, among other groups, the Carnegie Corporation, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and the Gates Foundation. The fellowship, according to its Web site, aims to “develop the next generation of community-spirited leaders” by engaging them “in a thought-provoking journey of personal exploration.”

Giridharadas at first found the fellowship to be a pretty sweet deal; it offered free trips to the Rockies and led to invitations from the sorts of people who own Western-themed mansions and fly private jets. After a while, though, he started to feel that something was rotten in the state of Colorado. In 2015, when he was asked to deliver a speech to his fellow-fellows, he used it to condemn what he called “the Aspen Consensus.”

“The Aspen Consensus, in a nutshell, is this,” he said. “The winners of our age must be challenged to do more good. But never, ever tell them to do less harm.” The speech made the Times; people began asking for copies of it; and Giridharadas decided to expand on it. The result is “Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World.” “I hadn’t planned to write a book on this topic, but the topic chose me,” he writes."



"Inside Philanthropy is a Web site devoted to high-end giving; its tagline is “Who’s Funding What, and Why.” David Callahan is the site’s founder and editor. If Giridharadas worries that the super-wealthy just play at changing the world, Callahan worries they’re going at it in earnest.

“An ever larger and richer upper class is amplifying its influence through large-scale giving in an era when it already has too much clout,” he writes in “The Givers: Wealth, Power, and Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age.” “Things are going to get worse, too.”

Part of the problem, according to Callahan, lies in the broad way that philanthropy has been defined. Under the federal tax code, an organization that feeds the hungry can count as a philanthropy, and so can a university where students study the problem of hunger, and so, too, can a think tank devoted to downplaying hunger as a problem. All these qualify as what are known, after the relevant tax-code provision, as 501(c)(3)s, meaning that the contributions they receive are tax deductible, and that the earnings on their endowments are largely tax-free. 501(c)(3)s are prohibited from engaging in partisan activity, but, as “The Givers” convincingly argues, activists on both sides of the ideological divide have developed work-arounds.

As a left-leaning example, Callahan cites Tim Gill, who’s been called “the megadonor behind the L.G.B.T.Q.-rights movement.” A software designer, Gill became rich founding and then selling a company called Quark, and he’s donated more than three hundred million dollars toward promoting L.G.B.T.Q. rights. While some of this has been in the form of straight-up political contributions, much of it has been disbursed by Gill’s tax-exempt foundation, which has financed educational efforts, message testing, and—perhaps most important—legal research. “Without a doubt, we would not be where we are without Tim Gill and the Gill Foundation,” Mary Bonauto, the attorney who argued the 2015 Supreme Court case that legalized gay marriage, told Rolling Stone last year.

On the right, Callahan points to Art Pope, the chairman of a privately held discount-store chain called Variety Wholesalers. Pope has used his wealth to support a network of foundations, based in North Carolina, that advocate for voter-identification—or, if you prefer, voter-suppression—laws. In 2013, pushed by Pope’s network, the North Carolina state legislature enacted a measure requiring residents to present state-issued photo I.D.s at the polls. Then the North Carolina Institute for Constitutional Law—another Pope-funded group—led the effort to block challenges to the measure. (The I.D. law was struck down, in 2016, by a federal appeals court that held it had been “passed with racially discriminatory intent.”)

It is difficult to say what fraction of philanthropic giving goes toward shaping public policy. Callahan estimates that the figure is somewhere around ten billion dollars a year. Such an amount, he says, might not sound huge, but it’s more than the annual contributions made to candidates, parties, and super-pacs combined. The result is doubly undemocratic. For every billion dollars spent on advocacy tricked out as philanthropy, several hundred million dollars in uncaptured taxes are lost to the federal treasury.

“It’s not just that the megaphones operated by 501(c)(3) groups and financed by a sliver of rich donors have gotten louder and louder, making it harder for ordinary citizens to be heard,” Callahan notes. “It’s that these citizens are helping foot the bill.” That both liberals and conservatives are exploiting the tax code is small consolation.

“When it comes to who gets heard in the public square, ordinary citizens can’t begin to compete with an activist donor class,” Callahan writes. “How many very rich people need to care intensely about a cause to finance megaphones that drown out the voices of everyone else?” he asks. “Not many.”"



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Critiques of “The Gospel of Wealth” didn’t have much impact on Andrew Carnegie. He continued to distribute his fortune, to libraries and museums and universities, until, at the time of his death, in 1919, he had given away some three hundred and fifty million dollars—the equivalent of tens of billions in today’s money. It is hard to imagine that the critiques of the new Carnegies will do much to alter current trend lines.

The Gates Foundation alone, Callahan estimates, will disburse more than a hundred and fifty billion dollars over the next several decades. In just the next twenty years, affluent baby boomers are expected to contribute almost seven trillion dollars to philanthropy. And, the more government spending gets squeezed, the more important nongovernmental spending will become. When congressional Republicans passed their so-called tax-reform bill, they preserved the deduction for charitable contributions even as they capped the deduction for state and local tax payments. Thus, a hundred-million-dollar gift to Harvard will still be fully deductible, while, in many parts of the country, the property taxes paid to support local public schools will not be. It is possible that in the not too distant future philanthropic giving will outstrip federal outlays on non-defense discretionary programs, like education and the arts. This would represent, Callahan notes, a “striking milestone.”

Is that the kind of future we want? As the latest round of critiques makes clear, we probably won’t have much of a say in the matter. The philanthropists will decide, and then it will be left to their foundations to fight it out."
philanthropicindustrialcomplex  charitableindustrialcomplex  2018  elizabethkolbert  charity  philanthropy  inequality  andrewcarnegie  gildedage  inequity  disparity  wealth  inheritance  hughpricehughes  society  williamjewetttucker  patronage  ethics  wealthdistribution  exploitation  billgates  warrenbuffett  michaelbloomberg  larryellison  anandgiridharadas  aspenconsensus  georgesoros  socialentrepreneurship  laurietisch  darrenwalker  change  democracy  henrykravis  billclinton  davidcallahan  power  taxes  thinktanks  nonprofit  activism  timgill  publicpolicy  politics  economics  us  influence  artpope  votersuppression  law  superpacs  donaldtrump  equality  robertreich  nonprofits  capitalism  control 
august 2018 by robertogreco
You’re Not an Asshole, Mark Zuckerberg. You’re Just Wrong. |
"Why is it problematic when a businessman pledges to donate 99% of his personal shares in company stock (valued close to $45 billion) to philanthropy?

The popular argument against Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s display of altruism is that it is not a charitable donation; by the letter of the law he is funding a LLC, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, rather than a 501(c)(3). This means the activities *for the public good* will include private investment and policy debates, activities not allowed under the legal jurisdiction of non-profit status. This has been called philanthrocapitalism, tax-efficient generosity that allows the richest Americans greater latitude in which to use their finances for ideological purposes.

The argument for such legal maneuvering of philanthropic endeavors is pragmatic; there is longstanding, government-rewarded benefit in establishing a for-profit mechanism within a donation initiative. These benefits are usually addressed as opportunities to react to changing landscapes and partnership needs working between organizations and governments, which under charitable trusts is not as nimble as it is for an organization unencumbered by tax-exempt status. Whereas there is a gravitas toward the Annenberg Foundation or the Hewlett Foundation as patriarchs of domestic and international philanthropic efforts, part of their infrastructure is an inability to pivot their strategy. Chan Zuckerberg Initiative will not find its aims beholden to a singular mission; this makes them different from groups such as Riordan Foundation funding SMART Boards as evidence of scholastic merit despite ample evidence to the contrary. They can adapt, change, innovate.

I trust Mark Zuckerberg’s purpose for this movement is principled more than it is pragmatic. I find the LLC vs 501(c)(3) argument a straw man one as well; there are many ways he can use the money, many ways he can use the money in what we call a charitable fashion. The LLC in and of itself is not evidence of nefarious plans, nor is announcing a donation of 99% of his wealth to bettering the public good.

I have gone out of my way to not refer to the pledge of $45 billion as charity or philanthropy, however. While his intentions may be for the public good, they as misguided and harmful. Moreover, it is indicative of social and cultural erosion, showing a social structure where monetary success is not only more important than field-specific expertise but it purports the wealthy to an illusory status of Renaissance Men, their successes not narrow but holistic evidence to solve the problems of All Others.

John Cassidy’s critique in the New Yorker goes out of its way to steer clear of education debates, but Zuckerberg’s history as a donor to education reform is quite germane to the discussion. In America, access to quality education is promoted as an inalienable right. Education has long existed as a social structure, evidence to how our society views its purpose. Efforts to improve student achievement are going to be bound in equity and access. I struggle to think about student achievement conversations where we require charity or philanthropy in order for all citizens to have equal access to their inalienable right. When Zuckerberg gave $100 million to Newark Public Schools, it was a strings-attached political donation, not charity. Improving student achievement took a backseat to the politics of merit pay and consultancies for new bureaucratic management. This is not surprising; historically, merit pay and administrative overhead do not improve student achievement.

What does improve student achievement? The financial situation at home. Caroline Hoxby of the Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank, notes the most efficacious way to improve the outcomes of the lowest income students is to put money in the pockets of their parents. The United States as a society does not believe in direct wealth redistribution, however, so our distribution metrics are almost entirely geared toward education services. Hoxby argues that the schools receiving these distributions are flawed and charter schools are the solution, which is where I disagree — if family finances are the most compelling indicator of success, then the efforts at school are always going to be secondary, no matter how efficacious the school experience.

The past solutions and future reform thinking presented by Mark Zuckerberg does not involve income redistribution or even support services beyond school walls. Most likely, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative will develop more structures and systems that can function independent of the educational infrastructure. Mark Zuckerberg’s public statements on education reform support merit pay and personalized learning, contentious ideas considered discredited by many. The genesis of both beliefs are evident within the start-up culture that fostered Facebook, where meritocracy reigns supreme and *coding* can do as much for human equity as government. In the world of Mark Zuckerberg, supporting these missions with wealth and political force is not only sensible but an obligatory service to the public good.

The libertarian dreamscape of start-up culture does not, however, fiat to the bureaucratic labyrinth of education. Charter schools have not circumvented governmental obstacles, and early forays into technosolutionism have fallen flat. If governance is inextricable from education (a notion supported from the Enlightenment to today), any effort to avoid its shadow is doomed. To argue that education is not a public good could create space for the success of such efforts, but the purpose of philanthropy such as the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is marketed as service to the public good.

The best provision for positively influencing the education system is to provide for it through established, research-solidified channels. That means trusting the experts and using the leverage that comes with $45 billion to support multiple existing systems rather than building multiple new ones. But the ethos of Silicon Valley is to fail fast and to Fail Better, which is fine for privately traded companies made up of wealthy employees but a terrible framework to put on a social superstructure that has promised since the Enlightenment to be humanity’s conduit for upward mobility and social justice. It is not in the public good for schools to fail fast and Fail Better. In Silicon Valley it is okay for Udacity to fail with its SJSU roll-out or for Facebook to fail with its Newark Public Schools roll-out. These are companies with venture capital to cushion the hiccups, and even if the failure led to the end of the company, society only loses an instance of software-as-a-service. When the educational experience at SJSU turns out worse because of Udacity, or Newark Public Schools go through tremendous upheaval for no discernible benefit thanks to Facebook, our culture loses much more than the money it cost to put on the failed initiative. No matter the talk of learning from mistakes or doing better, the system has yet again failed, and the structure in place to mitigate that failure and was circumvented is left to glue the pieces back together. The students in these classrooms incubation labs have been failed to a significant degree, more so than any Fail Better rhetoric can fix.

The creation of Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, LLC, is a protection mechanism. Most writing has focused on how it protects the financial portfolio of the Zuckerberg family, but the real protection is of their philanthropic legacy. They can talk about the public good and act by pushing money and policy toward ideology and push-button solutions, apologizing when its results are not as intended and promising to do better with the rest of the billions. The right decisions for the legacy of the philanthropist do not become the right policies for the philanthropy because they were borne of good intentions. There is an inherent flawed logic to the idea that saving the world is a private enterprise."
markzuckerberg  policy  power  politics  influence  democracy  2015  philanthrocapitalism  charity  charities  charitableindustrialcomplex  philanthropy  society  us  rolinmoe  johncassidy  priscillachan  facebook  udacity  education  publicgood  publicpolicy  philanthropicindustrialcomplex  capitalism  control 
december 2015 by robertogreco
Mistaking the Edges for the Norm :: Personal InfoCloud
One of the best lessons from social quantitative analysis in grad school (public policy) was learning to understand if you are viewing edge cases or the norm (mainstream). Humans have some common traits, but when you start to design or develop any sort of program (be it government services or social software ) you start to realize that social at scale has many variations to how humans are social.
To get beyond the edges you have to go deep, very much like danah boyd has done with her work. The work danah has done is deeply helpful as it surfaces the difference in understanding across personality types, age ranges, and many cultural influences. She deeply understood the problem that most people on line (youth and adults) were not openly social as was (and sadly still is) the common assumptions of things to come. Privacy and small groups is much more common. Today we see Facebook privacy setting with 70% or more with “Friends Only” or tighter for sharing information ([Pew’s Privacy management on social media sites” report).
technology  people  privacy  danahboyd  research  edges  norm  publicpolicy  policy  via:tealtan 
august 2012 by robertogreco
Lawrence Lessig on Help U.S. / PICNIC Festival 2011 on Vimeo
"How are governments responding to the entitlement, engagement and sharing brought about by the Internet? How can policy "mistakes" be fixed in "high funcrctioning democracies"?<br />
Harvard law professor and Creative Commons founder Lawrence Lessig describes how policy errors in the United States are having unintended negative consequences and he implores "outsiders" to help US to correct its mistakes with balanced, sensible policy alternatives."
larrylessig  corruption  us  copyright  congress  lobbying  politics  policy  specialinterests  publicpolicy  ip  broadband  napster  culture  remixing  readwriteweb  web  internet  2011  netherlands  extremism  capitalism  history  alexisdetocqueville  future  corporatism  present  stasis  equality  entitlement  democracy  remixculture 
september 2011 by robertogreco
A Parent Guide to the Broad Foundation’s programs and policies « Parents Across America
"Eli Broad is a wealthy individual, accountable to no one but himself, who wields vast power over our public schools. Parents and community members should be aware of the extent to which the he and his foundation influence educational policies in districts throughout the country, through Broad-funded advocacy groups, Broad-sponsored experiments and reports, and the placement of Broad-trained school leaders, administrators and superintendents.<br />
<br />
Parents Across America considers Broad’s influence to be inherently undemocratic, as it disenfranchises parents and other stakeholders in an effort to privatize our public schools and imposes corporate-style policies without our consent. We strongly oppose allowing our nation’s education policy to be driven by billionaires who have no education expertise, who do not send their own children to public schools, and whose particular biases and policy preferences are damaging our children’s ability to receive a quality education."
elibroad  broadacademy  broadfoundation  billgates  waltonfamily  schools  policy  publicpolicy  education  superintendants  broadsuperintendants  politics  money  administration  arneduncan  reform  2011  influence 
april 2011 by robertogreco
Upper Toronto | Quiet Babylon
"Upper Toronto is a science fiction design proposal to build a new city in the sky. The CN restaurant might be ground level, or imagine a city sitting on top of the Bay Street towers. When Upper Toronto is finished, all residents of will be relocated upwards and Lower Toronto will transformed into some combination of intentional ruin, national park, and farmland.

This is, of course, a terrible idea. But it is a terrible idea that lets us imagine and perform about the kind of city we’d want if we could start fresh."
toronto  timmaly  design  cities  designfiction  sciencefiction  architecture  theater  engineering  urban  urbanism  urbanplanning  planning  policy  publicpolicy  development 
february 2011 by robertogreco
Foot in the Door | The American Prospect ["Martin Luther King Jr.'s fight for black Americans opened the doors for other minority groups to demand equality."]
"But [King’s] legacy for other minority groups is less obvious. In public policy, we group racial and ethnic minorities together, even when their situations are very different. African Americans, with their legacy of slavery, apartheid, and institutionalized discrimination, face a vastly different set of circumstances than Latinos (who, until relatively recently, were classified as “white” in large parts of the country), Asians, Native Americans, and women. That the federal government views these constituencies as a single group is a direct consequence of the Civil Rights movement and King’s successful push to fundamentally alter the federal government’s relationship to African Americans. In the years following King’s assassination, other movements — for women’s rights, for Latino rights, for Native American rights, for gay rights — took advantage of these pathways in their struggle for rights and redress from the federal government."
mlk  civilrights  us  history  minorities  policy  publicpolicy  discrimination  martinlutherkingjr 
january 2011 by robertogreco
Daniel Kahneman: The riddle of experience vs. memory | Video on TED.com
"Using examples from vacations to colonoscopies, Nobel laureate and founder of behavioral economics Daniel Kahneman reveals how our "experiencing selves" and our "remembering selves" perceive happiness differently. This new insight has profound implications for economics, public policy -- and our own self-awareness."
danielkahneman  memory  happiness  satisfaction  self-awareness  behavior  experience  ted  2010  psychology  money  goals  via:jessebrand  time  endings  well-being  policy  publicpolicy  economics  life  reflection  climate  california  education  design  learning  science  wealth  income  emotions  capitalism 
march 2010 by robertogreco
Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC)
"Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank. We are dedicated to informing and improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research.
california  policy  politics  economics  business  research  statistics  housing  health  government  poverty  immigration  reference  education  environment  information  public  thinktank  publicpolicy  demographics  via:javierarbona 
november 2009 by robertogreco

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