How Do We Feel About Billionaire Philanthro-Capitalists?

Amy Schiller in the Baffler discusses Michael Bloomberg now that he is no longer Mayor of New York and once more an average Joe, albeit one with billions. Her general impression is favorable:

Perhaps Bloomberg was chastened by Bill de Blasio’s victory, and the new mayor’s stated goals of reviving the public good through modest sacrifice of New York’s wealthiest citizens—like a .04 % tax increase for families earning above $500,000 per year to fund universal pre-K. … Or, maybe serving in government actually gave Bloomberg much-needed perspective about the scale of private wealth to public good. Bloomberg’s established pattern of making private gifts to underwrite public programs seems to indicate an attitude that flexible philanthropic dollars should support government, rather than undermine it, as the vehicle for improving society. (Of course, the de Blasio response is to make such generosity mandatory through taxes, rather than at the discretion of the donor.)

But assuming we will have an extraordinarily wealthy one percent for the near future, and that those one-percenters have ambitions to change public education, health, and other major fields, the question of who sets the terms on socially-oriented funds is a key one. Bloomberg seems prepared to offer money and expertise to help government, but on terms set by public officials. … Philanthropic dollars can support priorities determined by democratically-elected officials, rather than vanity projects, and they don’t need to reinvent the wheel simply for the donor’s ego.

Emphasis mine. This seems awesome, and also possibly too good to be true? Can egos that large deflate, even a tiny bit? Can private money be used for government good and not vanity evil? Since we have recently discovered that cynicism is linked to dementia and mortality, let’s try to be hopeful. And also, since Schiller links to it, let’s also re-read the fascinating New Yorker case study about Billionaire Philanthro-Capitalist getting schooled by their involvement in Newark’s public education.

photo via Peat Bakke

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