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

3.80  ·  Rating details ·  206 ratings  ·  38 reviews
The troubling ethics and politics of philanthropy

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 justic
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published November 20th 2018 by Princeton University Press
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May 07, 2020 rated it liked it
The best thing about this book is that it gives an interesting history of philanthropy and charity even including some Islamic forms – and this discussion includes the legal and ethical requirements associated with the kinds of charities that have existed in the past and what we might learn from them. It also includes philosophical discussions around the nature of charity, not least the idea that the preferences of the dead should not be allowed tie the hands of the living. This hadn’t really be ...more
Nov 15, 2019 rated it liked it
As someone who works in philanthropy, I found this to be a very interesting book, although it is not very readable. It is written by a philosophy professor and was written it seems with more of an academic audience in mind - so the language is a bit stilted.

That being said, the author's purpose is to analyze philanthropy's role in a liberal democracy. He starts by looking at three historical examples of giving: ancient Greece, the Islamic waqf and the creation of the Rockefeller Foundation (the
Matt Lechel
Feb 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An important dissection of philanthropy. I liked this book from a professional lens of working as a nonprofit capacity builder and I loved this book from the lens of being a citizen in kalamazoo Michigan in 2019 where recently two mega-rich donors (one of whom already funds the kalamazoo promise- a free college program for kzoo public school graduates) created a ‘foundation for excellence’ that lowered property taxes as its first initiative and created a quasi city linked nonprofit entity, led b ...more
Elizabeth Stolar
May 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a very academic book, and even though it was only 200 pages, it took me a while to read it, as it was not a quick read. That said, it was worthwhile and it raises a lot of interesting points. I hadn't thought about the potential for charitable foundations to be anti-democratic, as they give plutocratic voices and outsized voice in social policy. This is a good read for those interested in social policy and in charities and non-profit institutions, but it's not for everyone. ...more
Dana Schmidt
Jan 16, 2019 rated it liked it
A provocative look at philanthropic giving in the US and the rationale (or lack thereof) for the tax incentives behind it. A little dry and overly repetitive, but an important set of ideas.
Nick Klagge
Mar 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
I picked this up after reading Anand Giridharadas's "Winners Take All," which I gathered drew on a lot of ideas from Reich and other academics. It's a short but engaging read, which I would personally recommend over WTA. Reich's point in JG is to try to develop a theory-based view of the appropriate role of philanthropy in specifically democratic societies. He notes that government incentivization of philanthropy (through tax breaks for charitable giving) is a relatively recent development in hu ...more
Robert Wechsler
Dec 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
A very well-written, well-organized look at the forms of American philanthropy and the incentives that have, for the most part, led us to those forms. Reich focuses a bit too much on big philanthropy, especially big foundations, but one of the weakest parts of his book (in terms of the quality of the writing) is the defenses he makes of foundations: far more arcane and long-winded than the rest of the book. The other weakness is the “How It Can Do Better” part; there’s not a clear picture of how ...more
Amanda Kelso
Aug 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Rob Reich gives an excellent overview of the history of philanthropy in the US and then provides credible evidence on how it is creating deep flaws in our society. I would recommend to anyone who wants to get a better understanding of how foundations work, and the tax incentives inherent to them. When we look at scandals like the funding of scientific research by Epstein or cultural institutions by the Sackler family, we need to start asking ourselves why these important institutions must rely o ...more
Sharon Bautista
Feb 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I applauded every chapter of this book. As much a way to think systematically about philanthropy, this was also an introduction for me to the notion of public morality. I hope Reich writes a follow-up that further develops the notion that foundations should be a locus of innovation work.
Mar 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
There is interesting discussion about the history of foundations in the US and how tax breaks for charitable giving are regressive. The political philosophy was interesting at first but grew a bit repetitive. One point the author kept returning to was how allowing foundations to operate in perpetuity would harm future generations. But short of hypothetical catastrophic events that would need the resources, there were no examples given (I think) of foundations being somehow outdated in purpose or ...more
Anu Khosla
In my opinion, an absolutely critical book for anyone who works in philanthropy or policy, or who is general concerned by how to structure a healthy and sustainable democratic society.
Nov 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is an important book for donors, non profit board members and anyone interested in our Democracy. Tax laws and record inequality have led to some perverse trends in philanthropy, where the rich can exert self-serving influence on our public institutions. Reich offers evidence of the troubling trends and some thoughtful solutions, including using donor funds to accelerate experiments in policy and programs. When successful, those experiments should become publicly funded policy. Sometimes hi ...more
Z. J. Pandolfino
Just Giving makes a persuasive case for the role of philanthropy in democratic societies that could have been made in the span of an essay rather than a book. Unfortunately, Reich’s efforts to stretch his claims about the parameters within which charitable donations and philanthropic foundations would be morally permissible make this book needlessly repetitive. That Reich’s conclusions would have been better served in article format is evident in the fact that the book itself is compiled from ma ...more
Bill Lawrence
Jan 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Both interesting and in a couple of cases interesting historical perspective, as well as thought provoking as to policy for a higher purpose of foundations than they are currently aspiring to (for the most part). Subsidy of charity through tax deductions is relatively new and skews hard toward benefit of the wealthy even though 90% of Americans give to charity. The greater the wealth the lower the percentage of giving is directed to the disadvantaged . How much is giving, in effect, a purchase—s ...more
Mar 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
Fascinating read.
The thesis is our current charitable foundation set up and tax advantages are incredibly regressive and provide benefits to well off people, and the more well off you are. .(the higher the tax bracket), the bigger your benefit at the expense of the services to support the rest of society (schools, roads). The epitome of this is the school foundation (which I've actively supported myself). Wealthy neighborhoods and parents supporting their children, because the state government
Oct 21, 2019 rated it it was ok
This book presents a few interesting ideas, and is certainly novel in its development of a political philosophy of philanthropy. It is not a very critical one, though, and is highly repetitive. By (easily, in my view) making the assumptions that philanthropy will be nested in liberal democratic states (despite the rapid decay of such states), the political philosophy (and attendant moral questions) leap-frog some of the most important, complex, and compelling critiques of the philanthropic secto ...more
Aug 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating, thought-provoking, challenging examination of the role of philanthropy in society. Highly recommended.
Thurston Hunger
Jan 06, 2020 rated it it was ok
"It was ok" seems the most apt rating for this book. While examining the role of philanthropy and foundations seems well worth the effort these days (PAC-men and PAC-women as political king-makers, billionaires as all checks and no balances in terms of social welfare, an interesting way of keeping religion and state seemingly separate but connected on a dotted line), at the end of this book Reich seems happy to have merely raised interest in examining the repercussions of philanthropy.

The book d
Daniel Hageman
Regardless of the extent to which you think the critiques Reich makes are tractable issues worthy of more focus, I think that the general ideas put forward in discerning private morality (personal philanthropy) from public morality (system-wide philanthropy and societal implications) are indeed noteworthy. It is true that actions in the microcosm of personal philanthropy may be easily justified compared to their counterfactuals of luxurious spending/stockpiling, but a more systemic outlook on th ...more
Jul 04, 2019 rated it it was ok
The main idea of this book is that the United States’ 2016 tax code (although published in 2018, it doesn’t catch up to recent changes in our tax code around charitable donations) unfairly benefits the wealthy by, essentially, subsidizing their philanthropy, while less wealthy donors — although giving away larger portions of their income to charity — do not hit the benchmarks to itemize their donations. Family foundations are a way to: subvert taxes that could have been paid on wealth; pass soci ...more
so glad i finally got around to reading this. i first heard Rob Reich talk about this book at a book launch for Anand Giridharadas' Winners Take All (which i have a lot of thoughts about, so ask me). for me personally, i found Reich's book to be much more substantive and levelheaded, whereas Giridharadas' read more like an extended rant. Just Giving is written in a very academic but comprehensible style. even though i haven't read much political philosophy, Reich lays out his arguments with grea ...more
May 23, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Reich puts a lot of big ideas and strong messages into a relatively slim book. His philosophical/ethical treatises are buttressed by exemplary data and some historical pattern-sensing. I opened the book admittedly receptive to Reich's titular argument and closed the book with new thoughts about what 'philanthropy' is in the United States, its current function and its potential function. I'd never critically thought, for instance, about what it means for the state (our federal gov't) to 'subsidiz ...more
Austin Carroll Keeley
May 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Rob Reich considers the role of philanthropy (and often specifically, foundations), but a public rather than private moral perspective. That is, how are citizens of a democratic society to view philanthropic efforts when they are subsidized by the state via tax write-offs? Reich argues the need for, and then constructs, a theory of philanthropy that finds ways for philanthropists to augment democratic processes that would require significant changes to the tax code. The author presents a reasona ...more
Mar 02, 2020 rated it did not like it
Shelves: junk
A deeply immoral book from a deeply immoral person. After all, anything that might limit the power of Reich's God, the Government, should be crushed. And, in a way, Reich is right to worship the State, after all his entire living and the promise of the good living for his family comes from the people that are manipulating the State. His wages, his living expenses, the perks and the generous pension plan come from tax money. So why should be any different?

As for the immorality of the book: after
May 31, 2019 rated it liked it
For readability, each chapter is written as its own paper, laying out its purpose, making the arguments, and then summing up. Since some chapters have points in common, all of that makes for a fair amount of repetition and some tedium.

Despite that, there are some really interesting things covered from Reich's research, and without the end result actually being prescriptive there are some solid points made.

Which may actually be pretty good given that the subject is economics.
Mar 04, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: culture
Interesting discussion of the tension between philanthropy as social benefit and as tax shelter. Makes a case that we don't do as much as we could in the US to prevent abusive uses of philanthropy-as-tax-shelter. Also makes the case that the whole tax-favored status of philanthropy may be unnecessary. ...more
Sep 21, 2019 rated it liked it
The basic arguments of this book are compelling, calling out the need for more transparency and accountability in the philanthropic space given its role in shaping this country.

From a pure format and writing standpoint, think most of this could have been accomplished in an article or white paper. A great deal of avoidable detours and talking about process over substance.
Rahul  Adusumilli
Jun 09, 2020 rated it liked it
Scholarly. Could definitely have loosened the tie.

Two conclusions: 1) The activity doesn't merit the tax-breaks, which are moreover regressive.

2) Foundations can be useful IF they take advantage of their freedom to pursue long-term goals, something which corporations and governments aren't able to do because of structural constraints.
Jan 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
While the author’s style is somewhat dry and academic, the subject matter of his book is so revealing and relevant that it should be read by anyone who wishes to better understand the nature of inequality in the United States today.
Hector Mujica
Apr 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
It is a dense, academic read, but one that offers a compelling look at the history, philosophy and political theories that revolve around the world of philanthropy. It is a strong and powerful critique of the system we've built, and what steps could make it most just. ...more
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