Friday, November 12, 2021
Three Books on Giving and Philanthropy: Bernholz on How We Give Now, Breeze In Defense of Philanthropy, and Lechterman on The Tyranny of Generosity
At least three books on giving and philanthropy are coming out this month:
Lucy Bernholz (Stanford) has written How We Give Now: A Philanthropic Guide for the Rest of Us (MIT Press). Here is the summary:
From Go Fund Me to philanthropy: the everyday ways that we can give our money, our time, and even our data to help our communities and seek justice.
In How We Give Now, Lucy Bernholz shows that philanthropy is more than writing a check and claiming a tax deduction. For most of us—the non-wealthy givers—philanthropy can be a way of living our values and fully participating in society. We give in all kinds of ways—shopping at certain businesses, canvassing for candidates, donating money, and making conscious choices with our retirement funds. We give our cash, our time, and even our data to make the world a better place. Bernholz takes readers on a tour of the often-overlooked worlds of participatory philanthropy, learning from a diverse group of forty resourceful givers.
Donating our digitized personal data is an emerging form of philanthropy, and Bernholz describes safe, equitable, and effective ways of doing so—giving genetic data for medical research through a nonprofit genetics organization rather than a commercial one, for example, or contributing photographs to an online archive like the Densho Digital Repository, which documents America's internment of 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent. Bernholz tells us to “follow the money,” however, when we're asked to “add a dollar” to our total at the cash register, or when we buy a charity-branded product; it's more effective to give directly than to give while shopping.
Giving is a form of participation. Philanthropy by the rest of us—across geographies and cultural traditions—begins with and builds on active commitment to our communities.
Running down "do-gooders" has become a popular pastime in recent years. Journalists and academics alike have lampooned and criticized philanthropists and big donors for their charitable activities, which are often characterized as a means of self-aggrandisement or tax evasion. Yet, it is widely acknowledged that philanthropy - from the establishment of Carnegie libraries in the nineteenth century to the recent global health interventions of the Gates Foundation - has played a critical role in both developed and developing societies. In an impassioned defence of the role of philanthropy in society, Beth Breeze tackles the main critiques levelled at philanthropy and questions the rationale for undermining and disparaging philanthropic acts. She contends that although it might be flawed, philanthropy is a sector that ought to be celebrated and championed so that an abundance of causes and interests can flourish.
And Theodore M. Lechterman (University of Oxford) has written The Tyranny of Generosity: Why Philanthropy Corrupts Our Politics and How We Can Fix It (Oxford University Press). Here is the summary:
The practice of philanthropy, which releases private property for public purposes, represents in many ways the best angels of our nature. But this practice's noteworthy virtues often obscure the fact that philanthropy also represents the exercise of private power.
In The Tyranny of Generosity, Theodore Lechterman shows how this private power can threaten the foundations of a democratic society. The deployment of private wealth for public ends may rival the authority of communities to determine their own affairs. And, in societies characterized by wide disparities in wealth, philanthropy often combines with background inequalities to make public decisions overwhelmingly sensitive to the preferences of the rich. Allowing private wealth to dictate social outcomes collides with core commitments of a democratic society, a society in which people are supposed to determine their common affairs together, on equal terms.
But why exactly is democracy valuable? How should these values be weighed against the liberty of donors and the many social benefits that philanthropy promises? Lechterman explores these questions by examining various topics in the practice of philanthropy: the respective roles of philanthropy and government, public subsidies for private giving, the use of donations for political speech, instruments of perpetual giving, the rise in giving by commercial corporations, and "effective altruism" as a guide for individual giving. These studies build to a surprising conclusion: realizing the democratic ideal may be impossible without philanthropy--but making philanthropy safe for democracy also requires fundamental changes to policy and practice.