Response to Matthew Bishop: Are public perceptions of philanthropists changing?

Melissa A Berman

As Matthew Bishop astutely notes in his article in the June issue of Alliance, the political environment may alter how prominent philanthropists are perceived. In particular, rising income inequality could reshape attitudes toward philanthropists. The wealthiest control a growing share of the economy. And for many years now, the public sector’s funding capacity has been falling. That combination increases demands for philanthropy to fill the gap. While it’s not really possible for private giving to replace the public sector’s safety net, many expect that it could – and public officials sometimes promote that ‘solution’. In addition, some critics argue that private philanthropy does too little to help the neediest, and too much to promote the givers’ standing. The unhappy conclusion may be that the benefits to society of philanthropy aren’t worth the loss of tax revenue to the US (among some other nations). The social compact that enables philanthropy is fragile, and in the US it shows signs of fraying.

Melissa A Berman
President and CEO, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors

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