cover image Just Giving: Why Philanthropy Is Failing Democracy and How It Can Do Better

Just Giving: Why Philanthropy Is Failing Democracy and How It Can Do Better

Rob Reich. Princeton Univ, $27.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-691-18349-7

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 (Education, Justice, and Democracy) mounts a wide-ranging critique of charity and the government preferments that subsidize it. Far from an unalloyed good, he contends, charitable giving is often “an exercise of power and plutocratic voice that warrants democratic scrutiny.” Charitable tax deductions subsidize the gifts of rich people more than those of ordinary people; most charitable giving doesn’t go to the needy and doesn’t reduce inequality (some of it, like parental donations to affluent public schools, worsens inequality); and giant philanthropic foundations impose the obsolete priorities of their long-deceased donors on society for centuries, “the dead hand extend[ing] from beyond the grave to strangle future generations.” However, Reich points out, charities and foundations do have other virtues, such as pursuing idiosyncratic causes and long-term social-policy experiments that governments and markets don’t explore. His reform agenda suggests tax credits instead of deductions, foundation life spans, and lots more pondering of what charities should do. Although his writing is rather dry and academic, Reich gives a lucid, thought-provoking analysis of the public impact of charity. (Nov.)