Scott Cooper Miami discusses how Philanthropy Doesn’t Justify Inequality
I dream of a world where philanthropy isn’t only unnecessary. But rather, recalled as a bizarre and unfortunate creation of societies beyond. In this future world, accumulating resources whether for alleged good or benefit–will be recognized as unjust, unfair, and unequal. The bottom line is that Philanthropy Doesn’t Justify Inequality. My hope is that we will put in place mechanisms to ensure that the fruits of labor and land are enjoyed by all, although not to prevent the creation of wealth and prosperity. Unfortunately, our current moment finds many philanthropic organizations focused on amassing wealth for their endowments rather than on putting themselves out.
Philanthropy was initially created as a mechanism to keep control in the hands of the wealthy. It largely remained that way. Up until 1969, the wealthy could place their money in a foundation–which makes it exempt from taxation–but were not required to provide some of it away. Despite the fact that foundations are now mandated to invest or disburse a minimum of 5 percent of the assets annually, the small minority of trustees and board members controls where all that wealth goes. While social-justice philanthropy is practiced by a small but growing number of foundations , most philanthropists are not in the company of facing the economic inequality that undergirds their power. The huge majority of base giving serves as a tax write-off for the wealthy, and it directed at shoring up family’s or an individual’s influence culturally, professionally, and politically–not producing systemic change that is deep. It’s not a long-term solution to the ills to trust the benevolence of the wealthy of society, even people who are focused on philanthropy and end inequality.
Instead, change and we must arrange to confront the economic and cultural systems that perpetuate economic inequality. By “we,” I mean those people with wealth and existing foundations. Our goal should be to put ourselves. This means organizing to confront oppression, such as segregated and policed communities, and addressing. Electricity every day is being built by grassroots groups for this purpose. If philanthropy does not join them, we’ll be on the wrong side of history. The sources should be redirected into public coffers to construct a strong infrastructure while the government is far from perfect. Higher taxes on financial transactions and capital gains, and the closing of loopholes like those currently used for carried interest and offshore accounts. So would mandates like increasing the minimum wage and requiring an annual payout greater than 5% for foundations. Such changes would not be unprecedented. A few decades ago, the requirement was 7 percent, which meant millions of more dollars being circulated. Though it still wasn’t enough. We could even consider legislation requiring foundations to share over where and how their dollars are spent. Men and women who are affected by 32, decision-making and the power. Many social-justice funders already do so. But legally a sea change would be produced by requiring the presence of non-wealthy people on foundation boards.
In the end, the issue is that the prosperity in foundations shouldn’t all be theirs to begin with. This country was founded on the forced labor of enslaved Africans and the genocide of Native Americans. The stolen land labor, and lives that are stolen functioned to amass resources for European men that are largely white. That’s the history of wealth accumulation in the United States, and we will need to face it squarely. And yet our culture reinforces the myth that wealth is gathered through the hard work of extraordinary individuals. Again, disproportionately white guys. They deserve every penny, once the reality is anything but. Wealth is generated from the difficult work of ordinary individuals. They labor and create or grant access to their territory or have it taken from them. It is not that those who are accumulating wealth don’t work hard to get it or preserve it. It’s that, if the myth of meritocracy were accurate. There wouldn’t be millions of working poor people who struggle through tasks or work over 40 hours a week just to scrape by. Calling into question the very myths that uphold class privilege and wealth accumulation allows us to reckon that people that are wealthy are given unfair boosts in our society. Without recognizing that philanthropy is one of those boosts, we are going to be hard-pressed to really address wealth inequality as we know it.