And a study (pdf) just out from the Global Policy Forum, an international watchdog group, makes the case that powerful philanthropic foundations—under the control of wealthy individuals—are actively undermining governments and inappropriately setting the agenda for international bodies like the United Nations.
The top 27 largest foundations together possess assets of over $360 billion, notes the study, authored by Jens Martens and Karolin Seitz. Nineteen of those foundations are based in the United States and, across the board, they are expanding their influence over the global south. And in so doing, they are undermining democracy and local sovereignty.
Notably, foundation spending on global development is skyrocketing, jumping from $3 billion per year over a decade ago to $10 billion today. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation leads the way, giving $2.6 billion in 2012, the report notes. In addition, the Gates Foundation is the largest non-state funder of the World Health Organization. …
The risks of “philanthrocapitalism” are manifold, the researchers argue, including: “fragmentation and weakening of global governance”; “unstable financing”; and “lack of monitoring and accountability mechanisms.”
Ultra-Rich ‘Philanthrocapitalist’ Class Undermining Global Democracy: Report
As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stressed, “Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice that make philanthropy necessary.” And that’s the rub. The one thing that Big Philanthropy must overlook is the green elephant astride the boardroom’s conference table, the economic system that causes and extends these injustices in perpetuity. …
Private philanthropic mega-foundations are tax exempt which means 40 percent of their wealth has been siphoned off. The top seventy foundations have assets in excess of seven hundred billion dollars and in one recent year the tax subsidies amounted to a loss of $53.7 billion dollars to the U.S. treasury (Bob Reich, Boston Review, 2013). For example, as recounted in Mark Dowie’s book American Foundations, billionaire financier George Soros was conducting an executive session of his foundation when a spirited exchange occurred about grant-making priorities. Soros allegedly declared “This is my money. We will do it my way.” At that, a junior staffer pointed out that half the money didn’t belong to Soros because if not placed in the foundation “it would be in the Treasury.” The staffer’s employment was short-lived (Reich)
Just to be clear, some Big Philanthropists have done some good work. However, as Peter Buffet (Warren Buffet’s son) has argued, philanthropy is largely about letting billionaires feel better about themselves, a form of “conscience laundering” that simultaneously functions to “keep the existing system of inequality in place…” by shaping the culture.
Philanthropy: Looking a Gift Horse in the Mouth
The new report, however—entitled Gated Development: Is the Gates Foundation Always a Force for Good?—argues that regardless of good intentions or motivations, the foundation’s “concentration of power is undemocratically and unaccountably skewing the direction of international development” which in turn is “exacerbating global inequality and entrenching corporate power internationally.” …
[This report] demonstrates that the trend to involve business in addressing poverty and inequality is central to the priorities and funding of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. We argue that this is far from a neutral charitable strategy but instead an ideological commitment to promote neoliberal economic policies and corporate globalisation. Big business is directly benefitting, in particular in the fields of agriculture and health, as a result of the foundation’s activities, despite evidence to show that business solutions are not the most effective.
For the foundation in particular, there is an overt focus on technological solutions to poverty. While technology should have a role in addressing poverty and inequality, long term solutions require social and economic justice. This cannot be given by donors in the form of a climate resilient crop or cheaper smartphone, but must be about systemic social, economic and political change – issues not represented in the foundation’s funding priorities.
Just Who Exactly Benefits Most from the Global Giving of Billionaires Like Bill Gates?