Of all the warranted denunciations of the elite in recent years, Kurt Schlichter’s last month should probably rank among the best. The whole thing is well worth the read. “For all their newly-woke awareness of their privilege,” Schlichter asks in it,
have you ever once seen a single member of our alleged elite argue that due to its privilege, the elite should give up some of its power? You and me, sure. We totally need to give up our freedom and our money too, but have you ever seen a single policy prescription for one of the pseudo-crises the elite is constantly trying to pimp turn out to be that they stop being in charge, that they give up some their ill-gotten gains?
Sure seems right, both overall and perhaps in the context of philanthropy in particular, as well.
There has been much recent criticism of elite philanthropy, most prominently including from Anand Giridharadas, Rob Reich, and Edgar Villanueva. These critiques commonly attack big philanthropy for its self-interestedly wielded power and influence. Proudly progressive, they often conclude with a call for big philanthropy to urge, and spur, government to do more—with all of our tax-contributed money—in furtherance of whatever liberal policy aim is or aims are favored by the critic.
Less prominently, but also interestingly, a movement laudably borne of anti-elitism is arising within big philanthropy itself, called “participatory grantmaking,” arguing that it should yield some of its actual power to decide—using Schlichter’s lingo, to “stop being in charge” of—which nonprofits will get grants. Participatory-grantmaking proponents believe those who are supposedly going to benefit from the grants should participate in the decisionmaking in some way.
There have not been many calls from prominent progressive critics or proponents of participatoriness for elite philanthropy to give up its money outright, however—though there was something approaching such a call in boldness from someone with a different worldview the other day. During Part 2 of his recent conversation with The Giving Review, former Kauffman Foundation president and current Syracuse University professor Carl Schramm floated versions of an idea that hasn’t been part of the present discussion.
Hartmann: … I don't want to use a term that you would not use, but “forced sunsetting”?
Schramm: I would use that term. I’m not sure I’d say “forced,” but you could basically say, fine, foundations have terms of, like, 20 years. Period. End of story.
Hartmann: So that's pretty bold.
Schramm: Or something even more to the point: your foundation is closed five years after the settlor has died, because there’s not going to be any direction after that at all.
Hartmann: Are you being provocative there to lay out a marker, or is that something you think that would have a realistic chance of being seriously considered?
Schramm: Well, you know the way intellectuals behave. We’ve bought into a lot of ideas that when they were first announced, it looked totally outside the orbit of reasonable ideas. I actually have come to a view that foundations are mostly mischievous. They eventually become antidemocratic institutions. They don’t help us with great new ideas. They basically reaffirm pretty conventional ideas.
Sure seems as if Schramm’s are suggested solutions to which current anti-elite critics of big philanthropy—whose critiques also include its anti-democratic nature—would and, from their standpoint, perhaps should be at least somewhat receptive. That may be coming, one can suppose.