‘Tis the season of giving—both large (which we call philanthropy) and small (which we refer to simply as giving).
Darren Walker, the president of the Ford Foundation, is of the opinion that big institutional giving—philanthropy—isn’t enough. Why?
philanthropy can no longer grapple simply with what is happening in the world, but also with how and why.
Feeding the hungry is among our society’s most fundamental obligations, but we should also question why our neighbors are without nutritious food to eat. Housing the homeless is an imperative, but we should also question why our housing markets are so distorted. As a nation, we need more investment in education, but not without questioning educational disparities based on race, class and geography.
Our self-awareness — our humility — shouldn’t be limited to examining the problems. It should include the structures of solutions, like giving itself. As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said not long before his assassination, “Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.” It is, after all, an offspring of the free market; it is enabled by returns on capital. . .
Ultimately, we each must do our part to ensure that giving not only makes us feel better, but also makes our society more just.
That final point is reminiscent of what I teach my students: Marxism’s goal is to make itself irrelevant. In other words, the aim of the Marxian critique of political economy is pave the way for the transition to a world in which exploitation no longer exists, which would Marxism itself no longer useful.
The particularly Marxian way of imagining and creating a more just world is, of course, to abolish capital. And eliminating the returns on capital, Walker implies (whether intentionally or unintentionally), would also abolish the need for philanthropy.