I'm glad to hear that someone like Mark Kramer
is pointing out the limitations of even a large private philanthropic donation like Buffett's $31 billion to the Gates Foundation. [See here for Kramer's recent Opinion piece
in the Chronicle of Philanthropy
, with an excerpt below the fold.]
--Which raises this fundamental question about the deafening silence of public discussion this week in response to the Buffett donation: If philanthropists like Gates and Buffett truly desire to benefit the poor, why do they not (with their great status, wealth, and public voice) make much greater efforts to publicly criticize and reject the Bush admin. strategy of tax cuts for the wealthy, which in their combined impact will probably do much more harm than can ever be repaired by even Buffett-size philanthropic gifts?
Wouldn't the greatest philanthropy of wealthy people be for them first to insist on paying their taxes, instead of allowing the Bush administration to give them ever greater tax breaks?!!
As previous DailyKos writers IlGreven
have noted, Buffett has been critical of Congressional efforts to cut the estate tax, but this criticism seems to have been completely silenced this week in all the news coverage of the philanthropic gift.
Here is an excerpt from Mark Kramer's piece:
Don't Confuse Generosity With Impact on Society
With the stroke of a pen, Warren Buffett has committed more money to charity in a single transaction than anyone in history.
In current dollars, his $31-billion gift is double the total lifetime philanthropic contributions of Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller combined. Yet this noble gift also casts light on one of the most central dilemmas of philanthropy -- the inadvertent sleight of hand that confuses the generosity of the gift with the impact on society. . . . All the attention to the gift has focused on the magnitude of the pledge and the character of the donor -- so much so that the much tougher challenge of turning money into a solution for social problems gets overlooked.
The pen stroke that committed these funds to charity does not itself improve anyone's lot... No medical research has yet been financed, no social services subsidized, no schools improved. The money has entered a twilight zone from which social impact will, at best, slowly emerge over many decades.... More and more money is donated to charity every year, yet America's schools continue to fail, poverty continues to rise, and our environment seems ever more precarious. We would like to think that our contributions make a difference -- and large contributions make a large difference -- but there is surprisingly little evidence that this is so.
The publicity that attends gifts such as this deludes us into thinking that if only more people were more generous, the world's problems would be solved. But the $1.5-billion that Mr. Buffett will contribute each year over the coming decades is only a small addition to the total contributions from the rest of us. In fact, it is just about one-half of 1 percent of the $260-billion that Americans gave to charity last year. The knowledge of how to use charitable dollars effectively turns out to be a much rarer commodity than the dollars themselves.
To read more, click here.
Mark Kramer is a co-founder and managing director of FSG Social Impact Advisors, a nonprofit consulting firm, a senior fellow at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, and a co-founder of the Center for Effective Philanthropy. He can be reached at Mark.Kramer@FSG-impact.org.