A new book argues that the giving patterns of today’s wealthy may present challenges to the democratic process.
The gifts come at a time when government is shrinking, and when, in some cases, philanthropic dollars replace or supplant government functions. That can mean that it’s philanthropists who decide what scientific issues are researched, what types of schools exist in communities, and what initiatives get on ballots. “It’s great to have these new donors appearing on the scene at a time when government is being cut,” Callahan told me, in a phone interview. “On the other hand, there’s no question that with money comes power and influence.” … “We face a future in which private donors—who are accountable to no one—may often wield more influence than elected public officials, who (in theory, anyway) are accountable to all of us,”
Callahan isn’t sure where he stands on this debate. As he points out, it’s hard to argue against individuals providing nets to prevent the spread of malaria, or giving away all their money before they die. But he makes a convincing argument that philanthropists are more aggressive than ever, and that this is cause for concern.
part of the benefit of having so much money to give away is doing what you want with it without listening to anybody else. But in a society where the haves are increasingly separated from the have-nots, some wise philanthropists may begin to understand that there’s a problem when having money means not just improving your own life, but deciding what happens in other people’s lives too.
More: The Givers: Money, Power, and Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age by David Callahan, founder and editor of Inside Philanthropy