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Thursday, January 10, 2019

Is philanthropy bad for democracy?

Rationally Speaking | Official Podcast of New York City Skeptics - Current Episodes - RS 221 - Rob Reich on "Is philanthropy bad for democracy?"

"Most big philanthropy is striving to bring about policy change. Well, that represents a plutocratic element in a democratic society that otherwise prizes political equality...

There was one in particular in Georgia, where someone had set aside money for a public park which was intended to be whites only. 1964 comes around, Brown versus Board comes around, now this is no longer constitutional. And so the solution to that problem was that the existing park owned by the public but conditioned for whites only, was to be sold to private interests, and then the money that was gained from the proceeds to be returned to the heirs of the original donor...

From the standpoint of the African Americans in the city who now had various portions of land bottled up for an extensively public service to which they had no access, and the donor got credit for being a philanthropist and got various forms of civic esteem — I think from the standpoint of African American citizens they are worse off... prior to the Brown versus Board of Education decision, African Americans are made worse off insofar as there is now a public park to which they have no access. So they are situated unequally, relative to white citizens. And moreover, the donor has increased his social status — the park is named after him, there's various sorts of civic esteem attached to it — so there's an expressive view that's communicated, that this is a form of philanthropy that is civically valuable. Which, seems to me, to denigrate in all the ordinary ways the status of African Americans...

"For the love of god people, stop giving money to Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Stanford." And the reason for this has something to do with, first, it's not especially an effective use of money, he thinks. If it's going to build the new dining hall at Yale with 100 million dollars on a campus that already has 20 billion dollars in its endowment, or whatever the case is at Stanford...

In one particular case was that the world would actually have been better off if instead of having given a bunch of money to one of these universities, the donor had taken the money and just set it on fire in his backyard.And then you start to wonder, how is that possible? That the would would be better off?

And his answer to that question has to do with the tax advantages, so if the owner had burned it in the backyard then there would have been 20%, 30%, 40% tax revenue on that act of private consumption. And the fractional benefit to a citizen of a tax dollar relative to the benefit of the world of building a dining hall at Yale's already nicely developed campus, in his estimation the tax revenue would have been better for the world than that...

Now let's talk about a world in which there's no tax benefits... private donations to existing public schools are a way of amplifying existing inequalities in educational opportunity from public finance and public dollars for education...

Since every individual has limited resources and limited time, when we valorize the philanthropic activities of the parents in Palo Alto to support their public schools, rather than complain about the school finance system in Sacramento and the changing that would benefit all California children, it just seems to me to make it less likely that the relatively savvy, relatively well to do people in Palo Alto will actually direct their attention to the source of the problem.And so we put in place a system which makes it more likely that the root source of this problem remains in place.

And in the meantime advantages a very small class of individuals — namely the children of Palo Alto, rather than the site that the school system is meant to benefit in the first place, all California kids."


Presumably we should condemn girls' schools too since they exclude men

This is why we can't have nice things - equality means everyone must be equally miserable
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