Home > Uncategorized > PRESUMABLY Well-Intentioned Philanthropists are Killing Democracy

PRESUMABLY Well-Intentioned Philanthropists are Killing Democracy

December 18, 2018

Danielle Holly’s recent Non Profit Quarterly Article never answers the question she poses in the title: “Billionaires Focus Their Philanthropy on Education, But Will Children Benefit?“… but it does illustrate how their philanthropy undercuts the democratic governance structure of our country and how philanthropists undercut public funding by diverting tax dollars into their foundations. And it also illustrates how these billionaires, like the industrialists that preceded them, will impose their “business methods” onto public education. Ms. Holley opens her essay with a quote from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos who intends to use some of his boundless billions to underwrite pre-schools:

“We’ll use the same set of principles that have driven Amazon,” Bezos said as he made the announcement. “Most important among those will be genuine, intense customer obsession. The child will be the customer.

One can easily imagine the kinds of schools that would open if 4-year old customers got to make the choice… and they are unlikely to be the kind of rigorous schools the “reformers” are envisioning.

Ms. Holley then identifies two overarching issues regarding philanthropic investments in public operations:

Two philosophical challenges have arisen with the nature of these investments. The first, which NPQ has discussed at length, is that it limits democratic control over the nation’s public education system. In effect, education philanthropy puts education program design in a few hands who are, by definition, outsiders, and often less expert and less informed than those who are doing the work…

Philanthropy is the least democratic institution on earth,” says Professor David Nasaw, a historian who has researched Carnegie’s philanthropic focus on education. “It’s rich men deciding what to do.”

The second challenge, behind which Anand Giridharadas’s 2018 book Winner Takes All: The Elite Charade of Changing the Worldhas ignited new fervor, is that the country’s wealthiest donors and most charitable companies have made their money by perpetuating the broken system they purport to fix. 

I am about to launch an adult education course based on Mr. Giridharadas’ book, and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to gain an in depth understanding of the corrosive effects philanthropy and— ultimately— unregulated capitalism— has on democracy. It is an unsettling and yet hopeful read. Unsettling because of what we are now witnessing… but hopeful because our country has been through this cycle before and come out stronger on the other side. And it DOES seem that the public is becoming wise to the ways the supposedly well-intentioned and magnanimous philanthropists make their money and use it to buy influence and control.

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  1. EGT
    December 18, 2018 at 12:28 pm

    I just put this book on hold at the library. Should be getting the ebook soon!

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