ON THE ROLE OF PHILANTHROPY
Philanthropic funds, through means of tax exemption, are most often those that would have otherwise been taxed and democratically allocated. Philanthropy thus largely exists outside of the democratic process, and from the participation of the general public.
Philanthropy often attempts to fill the gaps left by a broken democracy by trying to provide basic social needs, such as human services, education, and health care - all of which is an understandable response to such immediate crises. However, these often well-intentioned deeds unexpectedly relieve pressure from governments to adequately address fundamental rights and services, and may further reinforce the accumulation of private wealth by placing praise on the individual donor. 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 enormous and complex social needs. In this regard, philanthropy can get caught in forever trying to prop up the social safety net, never succeeding in the absence of systemic reforms.
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 external energy that can provide pressure on these systems to change. As noted above, governments wield huge financial capacity, and philanthropy should seek to leverage its workings to be more efficient and equitable for all, while not trying to take the place of government. This may include, for example, advancing initiatives to reform the wasteful criminal justice system, working towards fair and progressive taxation, shifting government funding towards regenerative food and agricultural systems, facilitating honest dialogue around what most burdens our healthcare systems, advocating systemic education reform, and advocacy for fair elections.
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 the mainstream ethos, and are thus not yet viable for garnering public funds. 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. The Riverstyx Foundation, by example, has provided catalytic early funding in the movements of psychedelic research, cannabis legalization, green burial, and Indigenous Medicine conservation. Philanthropy should stay nimble, open to experimentation and risk-taking. As it experiences success by legitimizing certain arenas that can now garner public funding, it should pivot and look again to the horizon to see what opportunities are yet to be explored, at the edge of society.