A long read in The Guardian by Carl Rhodes and Peter Bloom, academics from the UK, on the topic of billionaires giving to charity. In my opinion it is probably better to use their billions for charitable purposes than using it to purchase our politics, ala the Kochs or Adelson, but this article builds the case that ‘philanthrocapitalism’ reinforces the system that has built into it the increasing inequality and inequity we are experiencing. To me, public goods are better financed by public money, raised by taxes, and belong in the public sphere under public governance. However, when I look at the current Congress in the USA I realize that that position looks a lot weaker. I put in a few paragraphs from the article in italics to pique your interest. It appears that the authors are flogging a book on the same topic. I have not read the book so don’t know if it would add more than what is in the article.
What it does suggest, however, is that when it comes to giving, the CEO approach is one in which there is no apparent incompatibility between being generous, seeking to retain control over what is given, and the expectation of reaping benefits in return. This reformulation of generosity – in which it is no longer considered incompatible with control and self-interest – is a hallmark of the “CEO society”: a society where the values associated with corporate leadership are applied to all dimensions of human endeavour.
Essentially, what we are witnessing is the transfer of responsibility for public goods and services from democratic institutions to the wealthy, to be administered by an executive class.
The balanced tipped in 2000, when the Institute for Policy Studies in the US reported, after comparing corporate revenues with gross domestic product (GDP), that 51 of the largest economies in the world were corporations, and 49 were national economies.
Meanwhile, inequality is growing, and both corporations and the wealthy find ways to avoid the taxes that the rest of us pay. In the name of generosity, we find a new form of corporate rule, refashioning another dimension of human endeavour in its own interests. Such is a society where CEOs are no longer content to do business; they must control public goods as well. In the end, while the Giving Pledge’s website may feature more and more smiling faces of smug-looking CEOs, the real story is of a world characterised by gross inequality that is getting worse year by year.