A professor and co-director for the Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society at Stanford University considers whether philanthropy—often an exercise in unaccountable power, the conversion of private assets into public influence—represents a threat to democracy.
Some of the material here was published previously in journal articles and book chapters, but Reich reworks the information to appeal to nonscholars, hoping they will put more thought into theories of philanthropy ... Recommended for philanthropists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers, and anyone interested in political science, economics, and philosophy.
As a faculty member at a well-endowed university, Mr. Reich is understandably reluctant to conclude that philanthropy has no place in a well-run democracy. Thus he urges a change in the operating rules that government creates for it ... These are not new (or unreasonable) ideas, but whether they would make much of a difference is doubtful ... most cultures have adopted a variety of measures, including government policies, to prod their populace to be virtuous. Tocqueville understood this when he praised American civic traditions because they not only delivered useful services but also taught Americans how to be good citizens. By contrast, Mr. Reich believes philanthropy needs to be justified by its instrumental value, especially its egalitarian effects. Yet in a society that already places a premium on equality and its pursuit, philanthropy may be at its most valuable when it pursues other goals.
Surveying philanthropy from ancient Athens to the modern-day Rockefeller Foundation, and political philosophers from John Stuart Mill to John Rawls, Stanford political science professor Reich...mounts a wide-ranging critique of charity and the government preferments that subsidize it ... Although his writing is rather dry and academic, Reich gives a lucid, thought-provoking analysis of the public impact of charity.