Giving Compass' Take:

• In this interview, Rob Reich explains how philanthropy is failing democracy and how policy changes can undo the damage inflicted by wealth inequality.

• How can wealthy philanthropists better recognize and break down the systems that allow wealth inequality to grow? 

• Learn how philanthropists can impact wealth inequality

Why are you concerned about the role of philanthropy today?

In an age of massive and rising inequality, we also see rising levels of philanthropic activity among the very wealthy. The two go hand in hand.

This might seem an uncontroversially good thing, a mechanism for the wealthy to return some of their wealth to society. It can indeed be a good thing, but the starting point of my analysis is that big philanthropy is an exercise in power — the direction of the private assets of wealthy people toward some public influence. In a democratic society, wherever we see the exercise of power in a public setting, the response it deserves is not gratitude but scrutiny.

The public policies in the United States, and in many other countries, confer enormous privileges on philanthropists. Private foundations are largely unaccountable — no one can be unelected in a foundation, and there are no competitors to put them out of business. They are frequently nontransparent — more than 90 percent of the roughly 100,000 private foundations in the U.S. have no website. And they are donor-directed, and by default exist in perpetuity. Finally, it might seem that philanthropy is just the exercise of the liberty of people to give away their money. But philanthropy is generously tax subsidized, costing the U.S. Treasury more than $50 billion in forgone revenue last year. My book asks, do these policies orient philanthropy toward support of democratic institutions and the pursuit of justice? I argue that our policies fall very short. Too often philanthropy is not just giving.

Read the full interview with Rob Reich about philanthropy failing democracy from Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University at Medium.