Rob Reich,Director of the Center for Rthics in Society at Stanford University, warns that big money is using the guise of philanthropy to advance their personal agenda and bypass democratic institutions.

The ethical argument against philanthropy

“Exceptionally wealthy people aren’t a likeable demographic, but they have an easy way to boost personal appeal: Become an exceptionally wealthy philanthropist. When the rich use their money to support a good cause, we’re compelled to compliment their generosity and praise their selfless work.

“This is entirely the wrong response, according to Rob Reich, director of the Center for Ethics in Society at Stanford University.
Big philanthropy is, he says, “the odd encouragement of a plutocratic voice in a democratic society.” By offering philanthropists nothing but gratitude, we allow a huge amount of power to go unchecked.

“Philanthropy, if you define it as the deployment of private wealth for some public influence, is an exercise of power. In a democratic society, power deserves scrutiny,” he adds.

“A philanthropic foundation is a form of unaccountable power quite unlike any other organization in society. Government is at least somewhat beholden to voters, and private companies must contend with marketplace competition and the demands of shareholders.
But until the day that government services alleviate all human need, perhaps we should be willing to overlook the power dynamics of philanthropy—after all, surely charity in unchecked form is better than nothing?

“In extreme situations, such as a major disaster, Reich is supportive of donations from philanthropic organizations. But he’s strongly against private donors providing public goods on a longer-term basis, which he says contributes to a cycle whereby the state expects to provide less and philanthropists are relied on to pay for more and more. And a democratically elected government should be a far better provider of long-term services than wealthy individuals.”

That is precisely the reason that Bridge International Academies, the for-profit provider of low-cost schools in Africa is doing harm: it enables the state to do less and to shirk its responsibility to provide free, universal public education to all.