We live in a winner-take-all world. The top 1 percent controls 40 percent of the planet’s wealth. In cities throughout the United States, people are still camped in public parks, holding signs that say “We are the 99%.” Unemployment hovers around 9 percent, state budgets have been slashed and social programs cut. Food pantries report growing demand. The very rich, in the meantime, have never been richer.
Along with this new class of the extraordinarily wealthy comes a new kind of philanthropy, practiced by individuals such as Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Michael Bloomberg, and eBay billionaires Jeff Skoll and Pierre Omidyar. This new philanthropy has brought an incredible infusion of resources to a range of important causes. But it also means that the very wealthy are setting the agenda on those causes — and along the way, setting policy priorities.
The most prominent statement of the movement is “Philanthrocapitalism: How the Rich Can Save the World,” by journalist Matthew Bishop and economist and writer Michael Green. The book includes interviews with Bill Clinton, George Soros, Richard Branson and other high-profile advocates of philanthrocapitalism. The first edition was written before the 2008 financial meltdown. In the 2009 reprint, the subtitle was changed to “How Giving Can Save the World.” Bishop and Green say the new title reflects their use of “the rich as a lens to look at how society is changing the way it solves its biggest problems.” It also seems to reflect the public’s growing discomfort with the relationship between private wealth and political power.