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Book Launch

Book Launch | Just Giving: Why Philanthropy Is Failing Democracy and How It Can Do Better

09/19 Thursday | 6pm

NYU’s Institute for Public Knowledge invites you to the launch of Just Giving: Why Philanthropy Is Failing Democracy and How It Can Do Better (Princeton, 2018) by Rob Reich, featuring the author in a conversation with Daniel Viehoff and Holly Fetter, moderated by Eric Klinenberg.

Is philanthropy, by its very nature, a threat to today’s democracy? Though we may laud wealthy individuals who give away their money for society’s benefit, Just Giving shows how such generosity not only isn’t the unassailable good we think it to be but might also undermine democratic values and set back aspirations of justice. Big philanthropy is often an exercise of power, the conversion of private assets into public influence. And it is a form of power that is largely unaccountable, often perpetual, and lavishly tax-advantaged. The affluent—and their foundations—reap vast benefits even as they influence policy without accountability. And small philanthropy, or ordinary charitable giving, can be problematic as well. Charity, it turns out, does surprisingly little to provide for those in need and sometimes worsens inequality.

These outcomes are shaped by the policies that define and structure philanthropy. When, how much, and to whom people give is influenced by laws governing everything from the creation of foundations and nonprofits to generous tax exemptions for donations of money and property. Rob Reich asks: What attitude and what policies should democracies have concerning individuals who give money away for public purposes? Philanthropy currently fails democracy in many ways, but Reich argues that it can be redeemed. Differentiating between individual philanthropy and private foundations, the aims of mass giving should be the decentralization of power in the production of public goods, such as the arts, education, and science. For foundations, the goal should be what Reich terms “discovery,” or long-time-horizon innovations that enhance democratic experimentalism. Philanthropy, when properly structured, can play a crucial role in supporting a strong liberal democracy.

Just Giving investigates the ethical and political dimensions of philanthropy and considers how giving might better support democratic values and promote justice.

Rob Reich is professor of political science at Stanford University. He is also director of the Center for Ethics, and co-director of the Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society (publisher of the Stanford Social Innovation Review), both at Stanford University. He is the author of several books, including Philanthropy in Democratic Societies: History, Institutions, Values (edited with Chiara Cordelli and Lucy Bernholz, University of Chicago Press, 2016) and Education, Justice, and Democracy (edited with Danielle Allen, University of Chicago Press, 2013). His current work focuses on ethics, public policy, and technology, and he serves as associate director of the Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence initiative at Stanford.

Holly Fetter is an organizer and MBA candidate at Harvard Business School. She has worked with the Ford Foundation’s Increasing Civic & Political Participation team, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, and, most recently, the MTV/VH1/Logo Social Impact Team at Viacom, “harnessing the networks’ superpowers for good.” Holly serves on the Board of Directors for North Star Fund, a social justice foundation, and is a long-time leader with Resource Generation, a community of young people leveraging their wealth to challenge inequality.

Daniel Viehoff is an Assistant Professor in NYU’s Philosophy Department. He received his BA in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics from Oxford, an MPhil in Philosophy from University College London, a PhD in Philosophy from Columbia University, and a JD from the Yale Law School. Daniel’s research focuses on political, legal, and moral philosophy. He is especially interested in questions of political authority and legitimacy, and in democratic theory. Daniel is currently completing a book manuscript on the special duties we have to obey democratically made decisions. In addition, he is doing work on the nature of voting rights and the justification of democratic enfranchisement.

Eric Klinenberg is the director of the Institute for Public Knowledge and Helen Gould Shepard Professor in the Social Sciences at NYU. He is the author of several books, including Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life (Crown, 2018), and Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago (University of Chicago Press, 2002). His scholarly work has been published in journals including the American Sociological Review, Theory and Society, and Ethnography, and he has contributed to The New YorkerThe New York Times Magazine, RollingStone, and Slate.

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