The author of the book under study, Rob Reich, in his specialty is quite far from philosophy in general and from such a specific topic as philanthropy in particular. This writer’s main field of activity is politics since he is a professor of political science. However, this knowledge allows the author to make a unique approach to a practically unexplored topic, and the accumulated academic experience allows him to conduct research profoundly and effectively.
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In addition, since the area under consideration intersects with philosophy and, as the author himself writes, philosophy is best implemented in dialogue, Reich resorted to the help of a considerable number of colleagues (Reich, 2018). Thus, the writer was able to combine the scientific knowledge of many people to study historical and contemporary philanthropy and its place in people’s lives. The main goal of his work was to analyze philanthropy as a phenomenon, its interaction with different parts of society, and the consequences that such an activity can carry. Therefore, the purpose of this review is to critically assess the Reich text, its conclusions and their relevance.
Despite applying most of the studied concepts to the United States, the author begins his research with historical references and the origins of philanthropy. Reich (2018) starts by mentioning one of the most significant philanthropists of the early 20th century, Rockefeller. Rockefeller’s philanthropy was remarkable due to its systematic and orderly (Reich, 2018). Together with his advisor, he created a national philanthropy system in both the United States and other regions, the echoes of which can be seen to this day. There are enough such philanthropists in the history of this phenomenon, and their names are widely known.
However, Reich (2018) questions such activities: is this apparently only positive activity a threat to modern democracy? Studies show that such actions can be viewed as converting currency into a particular form of power. Rich people thus gain public affection and elevate their status. While these parameters are complicated to quantify, they can have a massive impact. Precisely because the activities of philanthropists affect not only them and the recipients of their money and resources but the entire economic and national system, there is a need for a more systematic, political approach.
If philanthropy should be considered a social practice, then a specific question about political morality arises. How should the government treat people willing to give their funds to others for public or other purposes (Reich, 2018)? Statistics show that of all philanthropists, only a limited number of them are directly involved in the fight against poverty. For-profit philanthropy, in general, can only increase the difference between the poor and the rich and destabilize the overall situation.
From the author’s point of view, all these factors lead to the fact that modern philanthropy only undermines the foundations of democracy, increasing inequality, and thus often being tools that act against the original task (Reich, 2018). However, Reich notes that with the proper structure and focus of philanthropists on long-term community projects, philanthropy can be a powerful tool to support the values of freedom and equality. However, this requires the formation of political theories of philanthropy, which practically do not exist.
Reich’s analysis is exceptionally detailed and somewhat unique due to the amount of data processed and the characteristic political view of the philosophical issue. Indeed, philanthropy is primarily perceived as something positive, as an act of goodwill. People often see in the media as examples of people directing their funds to socially significant issues. However, the effect that this kind of philanthropy has is thought-provoking.
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Regardless of the results of donations, whether they were unsuccessful or brought tremendous benefit, there is a massive impact on the current structure. Moreover, such an influence is exerted by a small number of people who have the overwhelming majority of the money. Thus, this group has enormous power, which is practically unregulated and taxed, and therefore practically cannot be controlled.
Philanthropy in the current world is dangerous for at least two reasons, which cannot be disagreed with and which the author himself highlights. First of all, this area can be used to implement any fraudulent schemes, direct or indirect. Second, philanthropy does not provide the help it exists for, often doing more harm than good (Reich, 2018). If you distribute money to people, they will not be able to dispose of them with benefit for themselves properly, most likely by spending on short-term improvements in their own life.
This is why Reich (2018) proposes organizing systematic philanthropy aimed either at long-term horizontal innovation or at the decentralization of power in the production of public goods. However, one cannot but agree that in the current context, such actions are impossible due to the absence of any political theories based on which it would be possible to regulate the activities of philanthropists.
Hence, it should be noted that, for the most part, Reich’s book provides a fresh perspective on an under-explored topic, especially from a political point of view. The abundance of sources, consultants, and accumulated knowledge lends even more credibility to the available arguments, making them even more convincing. Philanthropy in its current form threatens modern democracy, as it is often used for entirely undemocratic purposes and destroys citizens’ freedoms. This situation can be changed by applying specially developed political theories. However, there is at least one weakness in the Reich study – the lack of certainty about the consequences of intervening in this area. In philanthropy and politics, it is precisely such subtle details that are important. However, these points can be worked out in future theories, to which Reich only sets the vector of development.
Reich, Rob. (2018). Just giving: Why philanthropy is failing democracy and how it can do better? Princeton University Press.
Batten, S.T., & Williams, N.C. (2017). The case for funding black-led social change. The Black Social Change Funders Network. Web.
Duquette, N. J. (2018). Inequality and philanthropy: High-income giving in the United States 1917–2012. Explorations in Economic History, 70, 25-41. Web.
Gautier, A. (2017). Philanthropists, think about the impact of your donations. ESSEC Knowledge. Web.
Kim, H., Lethem, F. J., & Lee, C. W. (2017). The ethical issue of contemporary philanthropy: Uintended negative consequences of philanthropy. Management Review: An International Journal, 12(1), 4.
Luo, J., Kaul, A., & Seo, H. (2018). Winning us with trifles: Adverse selection in the use of philanthropy as insurance. Strategic Management Journal, 39(10), 2591-2617. Web.