Dissent magazine back with another expose on America's governing plutocracy... How 'charity' from the plutocrats always begins and ends with their own self interests

Investigative reporter Joanne Barkan is back again, after several months of work on the beats she has covered for years. This time, she returns with a historical investigation and expose about how for America's billionaires charity always begins -- and ends -- at home.

The plutocrats of the late 19th and early 20th Century invented "targeted philanthropy". A different group with the same class interests has carried on the lucrative tradition into the 21st Century. Instead of names like Carnegie, Rockefeller, and Mellon, the latest iteration of the same old stuff is named Gates, Broad, Buffett and Walton. In her latest work, Barkan tells the story of how the main beneficiaries of the first "Gilded Age" -- the Rockefellers and Carnegies among others -- established a legal structure so that they could keep their money while carefully distributing it to influence public policy. Now it's time to fast forward the historical clock from the "Robber Barons" of 100 years ago to the Nouveau Robber Barons of the 21st Century, among them Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Eli Broad and the Waltons (about a half dozen of them).

For the world's richest men (and a handful of women), charity is basically self-serving, but carefully camouflaged. Chicago knows this very well. Their "giving" is targeted, aimed at preserving, expanding, and developing the apologetics for their wealth and power. As along as they can avoid paying taxes themselves, they starve public services. Then they provide selective services -- and in many cases, the personnel -- to perpetuate their plutocratic plundering. In Chicago's schools, dozens of "Broads" are the prime example. Instead of hiring trained and veteran educators, Chicago Public Schools, since the days of Arne Duncan, has been hiring fatuous but glib Power Point putas to do their dirty work. And because they are given to Chicago by the charity of the Billionaire Boys Club, we are all supposed to say "Thank you."

For anyone in Chicago, that's not news. For several years, the "charity" of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation dictated that CPS policy promoted something called "Small Schools." During the days when Richard M. Daley and Arne Duncan were dictators over the city's public schools, "small schools" were foisted on dozens of Chicago schools by the plutocracy. Why? Because "Small Schools™" were the proven way to fix our "broken" urban high schools.

Until one day "Small Schools™" wasn't the way to fix our broken urban high schools (and some elementary schools) and the Gates millions stopped going into small schools and began flowing with almost the same vigor into "Turnaround."

As one skeptic from an earlier age wrote, "And so it goes..." But just in case some in Chicago want to narrow their histories, Barken, who has published in this space before, wants to remind us that the kinds of "charity" established by the Robber Barons of the first decades of the 20th Century set the stage for the manipulations currently being foisted upon the public by the Robber Barons of the 21st Century.

Here is the announcement:

This is the link to my new article--a critique of the immense influence of private foundations on public policy and society. It concludes with concrete proposals for reform. I hope a serious debate on "Big Philanthropy" will flourish, so please post or send around the link to anyone who might be interested.

Thanks very much,

Joanne Barkan

Plutocrats at Work: How Big Philanthropy Undermines Democracy, By Joanne Barkan - Dissent magazine, Fall 2013

Big philanthropy was born in the United States in the early twentieth century. The Russell Sage Foundation received its charter in 1907, the Carnegie Corporation in 1911, and the Rockefeller Foundation in 1913. These were strange new creatures—quite unlike traditional charities. They had vastly greater assets and were structured legally and financially to last forever. In addition, each was governed by a self-perpetuating board of private trustees; they were affiliated with no religious denomination; and they adopted grand, open-ended missions along the lines of “improve the human condition.” They were launched, in essence, as immense tax-exempt private corporations dealing in good works. But they would do good according to their own lights, and they would intervene in public life with no accountability to the public required.

From the start, the mega-foundations provoked hostility across the political spectrum. . . .


October 5, 2013 at 11:53 AM

By: jean sanders


Would someone please tell Bill Gates to keep his charity defined by buying mosquito nets to prevent malaria. That is the only idea he has that works and please tell him to stop buying and co-opting all the professional organizations in education to ram through his proposals for more tests and more charter schools.

Mosquito Nets are very much more important and he should spend all his money there.... also, leave some of the professional doctors alone because Gates thinks you need to disrupt and destroy so you can replace with your own ideas.

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