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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The ethical argument against philanthropy

Olivia Goldhill
Quartz
Originally posted July 22, 2017

Exceptionally wealthy people aren’t a likeable demographic, but they have an easy way to boost personal appeal: Become an exceptionally wealthy philanthropist. When the rich use their money to support a good cause, we’re compelled to compliment their generosity and praise their selfless work.

This is entirely the wrong response, according to Rob Reich, director of the Center for Ethics in Society at Stanford University.

Big philanthropy is, he says, “the odd encouragement of a plutocratic voice in a democratic society.” By offering philanthropists nothing but gratitude, we allow a huge amount of power to go unchecked. “Philanthropy, if you define it as the deployment of private wealth for some public influence, is an exercise of power. In a democratic society, power deserves scrutiny,” he adds.

A philanthropic foundation is a form of unaccountable power quite unlike any other organization in society. Government is at least somewhat beholden to voters, and private companies must contend with marketplace competition and the demands of shareholders.

But until the day that government services alleviate all human need, perhaps we should be willing to overlook the power dynamics of philanthropy—after all, surely charity in unchecked form is better than nothing?

The article is here.
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