Americans love philanthropy because we love individualism and we love our rich. We indeed think that could be us with some luck and hard work. Bootstrapism remains a powerful mythology within our society and goes a long ways to understanding why the United States is more economically conservative than Europe. And if you are rich, you are seen as an expert. Thus Bill Gates gets to set a global agenda on health care and Mark Zuckerberg somehow knows something about education. But while individual philanthropists can influence the world for good, the larger impact is really problematic, allowing the wealthy to create policy developing out of wankfests like the Aspen Institute. In the end, every dollar that goes toward rich people’s philanthropies is a dollar that the government should have taxed and spent to create social programs that make philanthropy unnecessary. Imagine a government actually funding public broadcasting instead of a system that relies on fundraising all the time. Imagine government funding higher education instead of forcing university presidents to do the bidding of the wealthy so they can get the donations they need to keep the school running. Imagine the U.S. government declaring war on disease instead of letting Bill Gates set the agenda. Instead Betsy DeVos is running our education system because she is rich and wants to get everyone in religious schools. Great.
I recognize this is the society in which we live and given the real world I don’t begrudge anyone going after donations. But it’s really not a good scene and is part and parcel of the New Gilded Age.