Giving It Away

April 13, 2008

Two recent articles on charitable giving in the U.S.: Saturday’s e-NYTimes published “Charities Seek Donors to Replace Wall Street”, which made me go back to a Slate article a couple months ago, “The Facebook Philanthropos”. The NYT article iterates philanthropy’s golden rule: 90% of money raised comes from 10% of (wealthiest) donors. The Slate article notes upticks in viral philanthropy or individual giving. While still accounting for only 1-5% of total contributions, viral philanthropy represents greater involvement from a wider range of individuals. Just looking at Obama’s campaign alone, we know that viral anything (at least in America) can overturn many a golden rule.

Two elephants (at least) in the room: first, the growing power of corporations and private wealth in supporting/defining what we see, hear, think, create in public space–which both articles address indirectly. And second, the shrinking role of government or public wealth (which come from taxes) in supporting/defining a (multi)cultural commons–which both articles do not address.

These are, of course, complicated and related issues. To get straight to my point, I’m generally not in favor of higher taxes. But we are swimming in dangerous waters when we as a nation are increasingly willing to put our common wealth (culture, science, education, sports, etc.) up for sale to private bidders. We are not just consumers and markets. We are citizens and constituencies. I for one do not want to look at a future sculpted by Facebook/Microsoft, Google, Sony, Visa, BMW, Boeing, Altria, Target, etc.

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