This is the second time I've posted excerpts from this 2013 article which originally appeared in Dissent Magazine.
Joanne Barkan is on the case of the new breed of muscle philanthropists who hide their obscene wealth in tax-sheltered foundations and use it to exercise unaccountable displays of power over public education and all aspects of public life. She makes the case that the super-rich don’t need billions of dollars in tax relief annually to exert their will in the public sphere.
One hundred years later, big philanthropy still aims to solve the world’s problems—with foundation trustees deciding what is a problem and how to fix it. They may act with good intentions, but they define “good.” The arrangement remains thoroughly plutocratic: it is the exercise of wealth-derived power in the public sphere with minimal democratic controls and civic obligations.Power philanthropists exercise greater control than ever over public ed. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation have taken the lead, but, says Barkan, other mega-foundations have joined in to underwrite the self-proclaimed “education reform movement.” Some of them are the Laura and John Arnold, Anschutz, Annie E. Casey, Michael and Susan Dell, William and Flora Hewlett, and Joyce foundations.
The so-called reforms include: privately-operated charter schools; "Parent Trigger" laws; using students’ scores on standardized tests to evaluate teachers and award bonuses; abolishing teacher tenure; and ending seniority as a criterion for salary increases, layoffs, and transfers.
Barkan proposes a list of reforms that would rein in the excesses of the giant foundations reduce their leverage in civil society and public policymaking while increasing government revenue.
Read her entire article, Plutocrats at Work: How Big Philanthropy Undermines Democracy, in the latest issue of Dissent.