McGoey (Sociology/Univ. of Essex) probes the business motivations of contemporary philanthropic organizations.
“One of the most acute ironies concerning the size of today’s philanthropic foundations,” writes the author, “is that the emergence of will-financed, politically powerful behemoths is rooted in a political philosophy that cautioned against using the centralized power of states to plan or develop economic growth.” McGoey charges that philanthropy does not necessarily help the underserved and poor, and it often undermines taxation and preserves both wealth and inequality. The author exemplifies her argument by concentrating on Bill Gates and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Business and philanthropy have always been related, she insists; the giving of Andrew Carnegie and John Rockefeller was driven by a desire to counter hostile public opinion. The author takes up the question of “whether a self-interested action can ever be truly philanthropic,” and she draws attention to “a new, pugnacious, explicitly commercial form of philanthropy.” As the author notes, current charity law does not prevent philanthropists—and their organizations—from donating to for-profit private companies, as long as the “grant is used for solely charitable purposes.” Gates, a hands-on leader, oversees donations and their effects, and in 2013, his organization became “the largest single donor” to the World Health Organization. This provides considerable political clout, and experts have questioned the effectiveness of his polio and HIV/AIDS programs abroad. In the U.S., his funds have gone largely to education, but when initiatives are deemed failures and shut down, recipients have little recourse. There is a public interest, as McGoey acknowledges, in both health and education, where accountability and continuity are primary concerns. Private initiative, tainted by corporate entanglement, often lacks accountability and can cause stability to be replaced by personal whims. The author stresses that much good has been accomplished, as well, but questions continue to accumulate.
Picking up the cudgels wielded by Ida Tarbell and her fellow trustbusters, McGoey produces a startling report.