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An inside look at the secretive world of elite philanthropists--and how they're quietly wielding ever more power to shape American life in ways both good and bad.While media attention focuses on famous philanthropists such as Bill Gates and Charles Koch, thousands of donors are at work below the radar promoting a wide range of causes. David Callahan charts the rise of thesAn inside look at the secretive world of elite philanthropists--and how they're quietly wielding ever more power to shape American life in ways both good and bad.While media attention focuses on famous philanthropists such as Bill Gates and Charles Koch, thousands of donors are at work below the radar promoting a wide range of causes. David Callahan charts the rise of these new power players and the ways they are converting the fortunes of a second Gilded Age into influence. He shows how this elite works behind the scenes on education, the environment, science, LGBT rights, and many other issues--with deep impact on government policy. Above all, he shows that the influence of the Givers is only just beginning, as new waves of billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg turn to philanthropy. Based on extensive research and interviews with countless donors and policy experts, this is not a brief for or against the Givers, but a fascinating investigation of a power shift in American society that has implications for us all....

Title : The Givers: Wealth, Power, and Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age
Author :
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ISBN : 9781101947050
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 320 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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The Givers: Wealth, Power, and Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age Reviews

  • Mal Warwick
    2019-01-23 12:24

    Few Americans appreciate the extraordinary scope and depth of philanthropy in our country. In 2015, the most recent year for which reliable estimates are available, Americans contributed a total of $373 billion to what is loosely called “charity.” That amounts to 2% of the nation’s GDP of just under $18 trillion that year—a proportion that has remained steady for at least seven decades.Where does all the money come from?Although most people imagine that the lion’s share of this money comes from charitable foundations and corporations, the reality is different. Combined, institutional sources accounted for just 21%. Living individual donors kicked in 71%, or nearly $265 billion. 90% of US households contribute on an annual basis; their total contributions average about $1,500 per household. In other words, the six, seven, and eight-figure gifts that are associated with philanthropy in the popular imagination represent only a fraction of the country’s total giving. That slice of the charitable pie is the subject of David Callahan’s heavily researched new book, The Givers: Wealth, Power, and Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age. Callahan goes out of his way to note that contributions by mega-donors “constitute less than a quarter of all annual charitable giving.”Who are the mega-donors?Callahan’s focus is a tiny fraction of 1% of the American population, mostly the increasing number of philanthropists among the nation’s more than 500 billionaires. His thesis is straightforward: “we face a future in which private donors—who are accountable to no one—may often wield more influence than elected public officials, who (in theory, at least, anyway) are accountable to all of us. This power shift is one of the biggest stories of our time.” However, Callahan’s study deals only with living individual major donors and, in some cases, the foundations they’ve established as vehicles for their giving. By “major donors,” he refers principally to gifts of eight or nine figures (tens or hundreds of millions of dollars). Callahan perceives a big risk in that the power that accrues to these mega-donors “will further push ordinary Americans to the margins of civic life in an unequal era when so many people already feel shoved aside by elites and the wealthy.” Pointing to the tens of trillions of dollars that will change hands from Baby Boomers to their descendants in the coming years, Callahan writes, “For all the philanthropy we’ve seen in recent years, it’s nothing compared to what lies ahead.”Many of the men and women Callahan profiles in detail have earned their money in either high-tech or finance. These fields account for most of the new wave of philanthropists that has emerged in the last two decades. And there is no reason to believe that either Silicon Valley or Wall Street will suddenly stop producing prodigious wealth in the years ahead.The mega-donors profiled by Callahan lack diversity to a surprising degree. Not only are they “almost entirely white,” a disproportionate number of the givers are Jewish, practically no Latino names appeared, and I didn’t encounter a single Chinese or Indian name in the book.Are mega-donors all “conservative?”The author cites a few statistics about economic inequality in passing, but The Givers is no left-wing screed against what Theodore Roosevelt termed “malefactors of great wealth.” Callahan’s treatment of the billionaires and multimillionaires whose giving he cites in his book is even-handed. Though I’m sure critics on the Right will object to his thesis, they will discover it’s difficult to find fault with his many detailed descriptions of the mega-donors and their philanthropic practices. He is careful to balance every account of attempts by Right-Wing donors such as the Koch Brothers to sway public policy or change the terms of debate with similar efforts by George Soros and other liberals. However, what Callahan makes clear is that libertarians and so-called conservatives have lavished far more money, and far more effectively, on their pet causes and institutions than have those who oppose them on the Left—and they’ve been doing it for many decades longer. It also becomes clear in The Givers that not all mega-donors can be pigeonholed as either liberal or conservative—in fact, a great many of them straddle the ideological divide, to judge from the pattern of their giving.Will mega-donors run out of money?Callahan makes abundantly clear what any large donor would be likely to say: it’s difficult to give away large sums of money. “Take Bill Gates and Warren Buffett,” he notes. Despite the billions of dollars both men have funneled into philanthropic projects, “both have gotten much richer over the past decade. Buffett added $25 billion to his fortune between 2005 and 2015. Gates added even more, pushing his net worth to nearly $80 billion. [It’s closer to $90 billion now.] And these fortunes may rise even further” as their shares in Microsoft and Berkshire-Hathaway continue to rise in value and their other investments yield additional returns. Gates and Buffett are by no means alone: “Larry Ellison added $40 billion to his wealth between 2005 and 2015, Jeff Bezos added $42 billion,” and so forth. In fact, nearly every one of the billionaires Callahan profiles in The Givers has grown richer even while giving away staggering sums of money.Bill and Melinda Gates have stipulated that their foundation is to give away all its assets in the 20 years following their deaths. But how could anyone possibly distribute with any pretense of judiciousness in just 20 years the estimated minimum of $150 billion the Gates Foundation will then be worth? (That figure includes the Foundation’s $39 billion, Gates’ $87 billion, and the $30 billion pledged by Warren Buffett.) Ask anyone who works in the field of philanthropy: it is not reasonable to expect that any foundation staff, no matter how gifted and efficient, could give away that much money in so short a time. The Foundation now grants just $4 billion annually. Perhaps they’ll decide to buy a small country or two.Is philanthropy good for America?Callahan emphasizes the efforts by many ultra-wealthy donors to influence public policy directly through political contributions and to sway public opinion through lavish support of think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, and the American Enterprise Institute on the Right and the Center for American Progress and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities on the Left. Both George Soros and the Koch Brothers are well known to be among these donors, but there are dozens of others who contribute enormous sums in similar ways, some of them well known, others who fly under the radar. Although Callahan scrupulously notes the efforts on both sides of the political divide, he writes that “there’s no denying that wealthy donors are far more likely to align themselves with think tanks that side with corporations and Wall Street in policy fights.” The difference in impact is clear: Heritage, Cato, and AEI dwarf nearly all their liberal counterparts, and they’ve been in business decades longer than the leading progressive think tank, the Center for American Progress, which was established only in 2003.Many of the donors profiled in The Givers have concentrated their contributions in specific areas. In education, many millions of dollars have gone to support charter schools—and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is credited with the adoption of the Common Core, almost single-handedly. In health care, progressive donors played a large role in bringing about the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), while their counterparts on the Right are bankrolling the effort to repeal it. Callahan cites numerous examples of donors whose intervention into the realm of public policy has been decisive. And other donors have imposed their views on the curriculum at colleges and universities to which they’ve given large gifts.Is all this good? Callahan wonders whether it is (as do I). While it’s difficult to dispute that there is value in philanthropic contributions to the public welfare, “philanthropy now acts as a driver of the growing divide in America in who gets heard in the public square—along with who sets the agenda—both nationally and locally. Giving by the wealthy is amplifying their voice at the expense of ordinary citizens, complementing other tools of upper-class dominance.”What is to be done?In an Epilogue, Callahan offers several recommendations to fix the flaws in America’s philanthropic environment: “Given the politicization of nonprofits over the past half century, it’s time to rethink which groups really should qualify for tax-exempt status.” Callahan opts for drawing a sharper distinction between tax-exempt 501(c)(3) and non-tax-exempt 501(c)(4) nonprofits, which would obviously entail reclassifying some that are now exempt from taxes into the latter category. Perhaps those that meddle in politics should be paying taxes. “Private foundations already pay a 2 percent federal excise tax on their annual investment income that generates more than $500 million a year in revenue. The tax is supposed to cover the costs of IRS oversight of charities,” but it’s been spent elsewhere since the 1990s. The money should be rededicated to serve the purpose it was intended to serve. Callahan also advocates the establishment of “a new U.S. federal office of charitable affairs” which he foresees as a vehicle “to analyze the benefits of charitable giving as well as the sector’s performance.” (Fat chance with a Republican Congress, no?) “There is a strong case that foundation boards should, as a norm, include outsiders—as opposed to just being composed of family members or other insiders.” To that I say, Amen. Callahan observes, as others have been noting since the 1970s, that “[t]oo many charitable dollars go to elite institutions that mainly cater to the affluent; too few go to alleviating poverty or fighting injustice,” all of which is indisputably true. But Callahan doesn’t see any easy way to remedy this situation. In the final analysis, Callahan sees the lack of government resources as a major source of the danger posed by the continuing growth in the influence of the ultra-wealthy through philanthropy. Donors are supplanting government. “One path forward,” he writes, “is reducing tax breaks for mortgages, health insurance, and retirement savings that mainly benefit the affluent.” In the current political environment, this one is just about as likely to be implemented as that new office of charitable affairs.David Callahan has performed a valuable service by spotlighting the often-hidden role of a small number of extremely wealthy individuals who are using philanthropy to gain more and more say over the destiny of American society.About the authorDavid Callahan founded and edits the online magazine Inside Philanthropy in 2013. He had previously co-founded the liberal New York think tank, Demos. The Givers is his ninth book.Facebook

  • Mary Anne
    2019-01-27 13:35

    The book flap says it best: “An inside look at the hidden world of elite philanthropists – and how they’re quietly wielding ever more power to shape American life in ways both good and bad.The book cover has an appropriate illustration: A private jet doing a flyover, leaving a trail of money for those below.This book does an excellent job of pointing out that even though many of the wealthiest people have signed the Giving Pledge (Google it), and pledge to give away most of their wealth while they are still alive, that is proving so very hard to do. The principal may be making more from the investments than the billionaires can give away!While reading this, my reaction went from fascination to nausea several times. When we think of charitable giving, we generally think of 501c3 charities. That is the IRS classification for most of the charities we know. But there are also 501c4 organizations, such as policy advocacy organizations and think tanks. And guess what? Giving money to either is tax deductible. Some of these entities are flat out political. If I give money to a political candidate, the donation is not tax deductible. But if I give money to the organization that say, funded the writing of Clinton Cash, a book slamming the Clinton Foundation, that donation is tax deductible. And there are such organizations for every imaginable political point of view, including extremist ones.The National Football League is a nonprofit.From the book, I learned that Michael Bloomberg has made it one of his environmental priorities to make sure that coal-fired plants are closed. But just this week the U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry was visiting a coal-fired plant in WV and promised to bring back this kind of plant.Here’s an idea of the kind of money some of the super-wealthy have. Both J. Paul Getty and Howard Hughes died in 1976, and both left legacies that are massive and dazzling, i.e. The Getty Center and Howard Hughes Medical Institute. From p. 237: “When J. Paul Getty died forty years ago, he was among the very richest people in America, with a net worth of $2 billion, the equivalent of $8 billion in 2016. Hughes had a similar net worth. Both men drew enormous attention for fortunes whose size seemed to defy comprehension. Very few other Americans of their time were nearly as rich. (When the Forbes 400 list debuted in 1982, it had just thirteen billionaires on it.) Yet today, neither Getty nor Hughes would rank among the wealthiest hundred Americans.”The author really knows his stuff. He is the founder and editor of Inside Philanthropy. He does make a recommendation for change, but in my opinion, there is little motivation to make the changes in today’s environment.

  • Alan Mills
    2019-01-30 15:26

    Fascinating look at the landscape of philanthropy, and how the new generation of ultra wealthy people are changing the way people give (and get) money.The amounts are staggering. Soros pledged to give away his entire fortune of several billion dollars in his lifetime. He transferred most of his wealth to the Open Society Foundation, but then within a decade had tripled the share he kept for himself (and the amount in the foundation), and then multiplied it again. He is making money faster than he can give it away...and has abandoned the idea of disposing of it all before he dies.Bloomberg has so much money that if he gave away his fortune at the same rate as the Rockefeller Foundation (one of the largest of the old time foundations) makes grants, it would take him 300 YEARS to give it all away...assuming counterfactually that he never earns another dime.On the other side, some not-for-profit institutions are raising money at a pace which I literally cannot grasp. Most groups would consider a gift of a million dollars a huge donation. At Harvard, they raise three times that EVERY SINGLE DAY.This vast wealth has also changed the way money is being given away. Historically, most foundations have given grants to hundreds of organizations each year, each of which is doing good work. Many of the new philanthropists made their money by making huge bets on a single company or idea, and won that bet. They are giving their money away in the same way--targeting a few institutions for gifts big enough to allow them to entirely change the scale they are working on, in the hope that their increased impact will be transformative (curing cancer, ending world hunger, etc.).The strength of Callahan's book is that it delves into these newly wealthy philanthropists, and examines their motives and world views in depth. He describes scores of foundations (both liberal and conservative), and gets into the weeds on how they decide who to give money to. This is also its weakness, as the details can bog down the reader. I found myself skimming some of the chapters, as I really didn't care about many of the foundations he examined.Callahan also weaves throughout the book a larger question: what does this focus on specific policy outcomes mean for democracy? While everyone welcomes their money, the result is inevitably that the ultra-rich also magnify their influence on government policies. And as Callahan notes, the ultra-rich really are different than most people. They fundamentally believe that the system "works"--after all, it worked quite well for them. Would we, as a society, be better off with a much more progressive tax system, so that the trillions of dollars now in the hands of private philanthropy are instead under the control of elected officials which are, at least in theory, accountable to the public?

  • Lyndsay
    2019-01-26 20:41

    Long winded but comprehensive.

  • Kusaimamekirai
    2019-01-20 16:24

    In a world where government spending on education, basic services, and our cities is shrinking, the vacuum is being filled by a small number of the super wealthy and their philanthropy. But as Callahan asks, who are these people, why are they giving, and what do they want in return? This book exhaustively explores the first question. It is filled with short 2-3 page biographies of wealthy people on the right and left who donate large sums of money to causes they believe in. What the reader doesn't get is a sustained look into the effects on this giving beyond a brief, sometimes its good sometimes its bad. Even more lacking is the author's research into what motivates this giving. He often fawns over donors generosity and claims that they have the best of intentions. But how do we know beyond the donor saying that they do and the author assuring us that it's true?Ironically, the author advocates for the government to be more stringent about what effect this giving is having on communities and yet he fails to really delve too far into it himself. With unprecedented sums of money being dumped into charter schools, think tanks, and climate denial a serious study of this phenomenon is necessary. This book scratches the surface, but ultimately comes up short and leaves the reader wanting so much more.

  • Sterling Hardaway
    2019-02-06 12:27

    A must read for anyone interested in philanthropy and social impact.

  • Rachel Hutchisson
    2019-02-04 14:27

    Fascinating book about elite philanthropists, how they made their money, how they invest it...and where philanthropy is headed.

  • Phyllis Chang
    2019-01-30 14:51

    As a new immigrant built roots in the Silicon Valley, this book offered some very fascinating insights of how some of the elite Americans (old money and new money) make their marks in the American social and economical landscape. I read through the whole book in 3 hours sittings in the famed Labyrinth Bookstore on the Nassau Street of Princeton downtown. I never finished a book in such a speed so you can tell how much I have immersed myself into many of the hard to know cases collected in this book. Thank you Dr. Callahan.

  • Joe
    2019-02-18 17:52

    I think that Callahan did a decent job describing how the very rich approach philanthropy. However, there were a couple of items that knocked this book down to two stars for me.One, Callahan spends a lot of time describing "philanthropy" being used for lobbying and policy change. While I appreciate that this money is going to non-profits, and everyone has a right to support whatever cause they want, this is not true philanthropy. True philanthropy is giving to a charity to support their mission - not a "non-profit" that has been created to push your political agenda.Second, Callahan misses another benefit that "philanthropists" are asking for more and more: intellectual property. I work for an organization that turned down a donation from one of the people mentioned in this book. Why? This person was donating 2% of the funds for a project and asking for 50% of the IP.Two things here. One, this is hardly philanthropy, this is a business deal. Worse, it is a business deal disguised as philanthropy. Let's pull the cover off of this new trend: very smart businesspeople making "donations" that will earn them more money. Two, these philanthropists are trying to get off cheap. Maybe they think that a charity will be happy to sign away millions of potential dollars later for a lot less now. There are charities out there that will prioritize a dollar now versus ten dollars later. But many non-profits are businesses - libraries, hospitals, schools, etc. They are more sophisticated than that and can see a bad deal for what it is - a bad deal. Again, this is not philanthropy. It will also makes me question whether those pledging to give away all of their money are really trying to do so when they're using their philanthropic dollars to make more money.I think Callahan wrote an okay book. It's basically a love letter to liberal philanthropists (and takes a somewhat harder stance to those on the right). But he misses a couple of important points. Not all philanthropists are in it for the giving. Some of them are in it as a new way to make money.

  • Jonathan
    2019-01-21 16:38

    The vast inequality in the US that has characterized the past several decades has often inspired the moniker of a "New Gilded Age." The wealthiest Americans--whether coming from Wall Street, Silicon Valley, old money, or elsewhere--have inconceivably large sums of money. And, as the saying goes, money is power. David Callahan analyzes this relationship between money and power in the world of philanthropy. Philanthropy is often treated as an unadulterated good, but, as Callahan explains, large-scale philanthropy sits uneasily with democratic principles. The wealthy are able to exert significant influence on politics and society, domestically and globally, without transparency, accountability, or democratic process. The intentions may be good (they aren't always--and I'd add that Callahan sees good intentions a bit more frequently then he should), but unchecked power toward any end is problematic because of the lack of corrective capability. [Not to mention that foundations offer a great way of shielding wealth from taxes and making it last through many generations, thus securing a family's continued power.]I found Callahan's analysis of the contrasting philanthropic philosophies across different sectors to be quite interesting, and he offers a number of cogent examples across issue areas (from charter schools to foreign policy) to back up his main arguments. One of the many astute points raised by Callahan is that although wealthy philanthropists may defend their political activities (often lacking in transparency) by noting that they are just helping to create a debate, not determining policy in some undemocratic way, the question is why *they* should be the ones who get to set the terms of the debate, rather than letting that rise organically upward. The policy solutions Callahan offers at the very end are mostly good, but I think he should have emphasized more that the best way to curb the ability of the rich to exert their power over politics and society is to curb the amount of money they have. Vast economic inequality will always reproduce itself in the political and civic spheres.

  • B
    2019-02-14 14:45

    A thorough but at times repetitious look at the state of philanthropy in our country. I was surprised at the huge amounts and the variety of donations, but I never thought of the downside: that a small part of our population is stepping in to fill areas where are government used to play a hand such as education, medical research, etc. but are doing so selectively and as such making decisions which affect all Americans. For instance, hospitals on the upper East end of New York City are heavily endowed from the wealthy people living there but hospitals in the poorer sections of town are struggling. Our taxes used to help equalize our society but with all the tax cuts starting with Reagan, the funding is gone and hospitals, universities, research agencies, etc. all have to turn to wealthy benefactors and their stipulations.

  • Leanne Ellis
    2019-01-29 18:41

    A bit repetitive but the most disturbing part is the cuts in government funding make everyone more dependent on the "kind generosity" of billionaires. We shouldn't have our policies and laws attached to the political views and whims of the super-rich! Will agencies have to make a case for everything in the future? And many of their donations to the arts and education, while welcome, benefit the wealthy more than the poor. Even medical research may rest on the hope that some uber-wealthy narcissist gets sick with the illness that affects millions (or at least thousands). The IRS needs to end the charitable deduction for think tanks. How is that charity if some jerk funds a super-PAC or ALEC to have their taxes reduced and gets a tax-break at the same time???Sickening!!!

  • Jane Comer
    2019-01-28 20:45

    This is another of this "everyone needs to know but wish you didn't need to know". In the areas where I agreed with the giving I was awed by the power of all the millions of dollars given by philanthropists; however, there were other scary areas that make one worry. Then, there is the billions of dollars in taxes that are lost in all the giving so that those who are so marginalized by the governments continued cut in services are forced to suffer even more so that the government can deploy my troops and research and build more weapons. Alas, it's all depressing. I would recommend the book for those who want to know some of the "behind the scenes" occurrences and the power of the 1%,

  • Blaine Morrow
    2019-01-21 18:34

    Callahan provides a panoramic view of how people who literally have more money than they can spend give their money away. He has a point, which he makes gently: when so much wealth and power are concentrated on social or political causes, without public oversight, there's a danger that the wealthy will shape the world the rest of us must live in. Perhaps one reason this point is understated is that there's little evidence that the wealthy can agree on what the world should look like, and their giving reflects divergent and opposing political inclinations. There's a lot of surprising information here, though the lack of charts, graphs, tables, and lists make it difficult to quantify.

  • Ruth
    2019-01-20 14:32

    Revealing how big philanthropy impacts every part of our world, including skewing public policies & influencing legislation. In our naivete, most of us would applaud philanthropy as a purely generous act, however, it is also a tax-deductible vehicle for hijacking public policy such as education that our democratically-elected representatives have been charged with making.The author's crisp, clear prose, combined with compelling subject matter, make this a pleasure to read. Despite this,several times the author repeats information & conclusions; perhaps he assumes that readers will skip chapters?A highly recommended read.

  • Glenn
    2019-02-09 13:51

    Tough book to rate. I picked it up on a whim. When I think of nonprofits, I forget this also includes 501 (c) 4s as well. Interesting on the variety of goals people have. Agree with the comment that, after a point in time, there is only so much money one can use. It really is just a score keeping method.

  • Nishan
    2019-02-20 14:36

    One of the best books on understanding the role of Philanthropy on modern age. #TheGivers by @DavidCallahanIP A pile of billions(Private Money) flowing onto the numbers of causes along with questions of positive & negative influences on public policies led by handful of donors.

  • Gina
    2019-02-02 19:33

    A fascinating and in-depth look at the interplay of income inequality, oligarchy, and philanthropy and how the rich are increasingly controlled public policy and charity.

  • Lulu248
    2019-01-29 13:50

    A well researched, informative and thought provoking read. The author is an experienced writer, who tends to get somewhat repetitive at times, though.