September 24, 2007
UPDATE: The Washington Post published David Nasaw's "We Can't Rely on the Kindness of Billionaires" (Sep. 24, 2007) in which he expresses similar concerns I express below (albeit he does so much more eloquently), asking at one point, "What becomes of a society that relies on "gifts" from a handful of socially conscious billionaires to save schools, cure disease and alleviate poverty?" The Post also published a list of the top five philanthropists and foundations in history, available here.
Bill Clinton's newest book focuses is entitled "Giving" and is a celebration of charitable work such as that that done by the Clinton Foundation. Bill Clinton was on Jon Stewart's The Daily Show last night, you can view the interview here, and has been promoting his book across the country. My concern with this and other books by politicians (I vaguely recall one but cannot come up with it) promoting the value of charity is with the political calculation involved in advocating something few critique regardless of political inclination and in the process diffusing attention from needed government programs or policies. Such celebrations of "giving," by suggesting that charity can take the place of government, arguably undermine efforts to provide lasting, guaranteed support to the very populations charities seek to serve. They also lump in gifts such as Barbara Dodd Anderson's recent $128 million gift to George School (where I was a scholarship student) (N.Y. Times coverage here) with gifts with greater potential to reach those in need.
Two conflicting views on charity can be found in:
- Arthur C. Brooks, Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism (2006) (arguing for charity in place of the state).
- David Wagner, What’s Love Got to Do with It?: A Critical Look at American Charity (2001) (a more skeptical take on the role of charity).
September 24, 2007 | Permalink
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In the spirit of Nasaw's observation, here's Tom Paine, from "Agrarian Justice"
"There are, in every country, some magnificent charities established by individuals. It is, however, but little that any individual can do, when the whole extent of the misery to be relived is considered. He may satisfy his conscience, but not his heart. He may give all that he has, and that all will relieve but little. It is only by organizing civilization upon such principles as to act like a system of pulleys, that the whole weight of misery can be removed. It ought not to be left to the choice of detached individuals whether they will do justice or not."
PS: David Wagner's book is terrific. In a similar vein, see also Poppendieck (Sweet Charity?), and Funicello (Tyranny of Kindness).
Posted by: sp | Sep 25, 2007 5:52:49 AM