ON THE ROLE OF PHILANTHROPY 

 

Foundation funds are most often those that would otherwise be taxed and democratically allocated by the government. Philanthropy is thus, in great part, anti-democratic in its decisions and processes.

Philanthropy tries to fill the gaps left by a broken democratic system by trying to provide basic social needs, like human services, education, and health care - all of which is an understandable response to such immediate crises, but unknowingly justifies the unfettered amassing of private wealth by placing praise on the individual donor, and relieves pressure from governments to adequately address these fundamental rights. Moreover, total combined private charity in the U.S. accounts for less than 0.1% of federal budgets, and is a drop in the bucket relative to these enormous and complex social needs. In this regard, philanthropy is often an inefficient and idiosyncratic form of tax money allocation.

We believe there is a unique and important role for philanthropy, focusing on two specific tasks. 

 

One, to improve the workings of government and democracy.

As government is slow and resistant to reforming itself, there is value for energy that can provide external pressure on these systems to change. As noted above, governments wield huge financial capacity, and philanthropy should seek to make its working more efficient and equitable for all humans and ecologies, while not trying to take the place of government. This may include, for example, reforming the wasteful criminal justice system and reallocating funds to treatment and educational opportunity, ending the war on drugs, ensuring progressive taxation, honest dialogue around what most burdens our healthcare systems, funding avenues for fair elections and election reform, and supporting progressive politicians.

 

Two, to fund projects that would never otherwise be funded by government.

Because democracy, by its nature, represents the common denominator of society, philanthropy can provide creative stimulus and inspiration by funding projects and ideas that lie entirely outside of mainstream culture, and are thus not endorsed or even seen for public funding. These are areas often most stigmatized in society. Philanthropy is not burdened with the bureaucracy of government or democratic process, and thus has the freedom and flexibility to fund new paradigms that are outside of public discourse - emergent but suppressed or ignored. This may include projects like psychedelic research, support for indigenous peoples and medicines, composting bodies and human "waste", conversations around death and dying, and supporting the rights of those rejected by society - e.g prisoners, sex workers, and drug users. Philanthropy should stay vigilant and nimble, and as it experiences success by legitimizing certain conversations that can now garner public funding, it should pivot and look again to the horizon to see what now lies at the edge.