Quaker Universalist Voice

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Quaker Giving

A Book Review of Rob Reich, Just Giving: Why Philanthropy is Failing Democracy and How It Can Do Better (2018)

The author of Rob Reich, Just Giving: Why Philanthropy is Failing Democracy and How It Can Do Better, does not make a good argument for why philanthropy is failing democracy and the author offers little remedy for making it better.  But, the author does provide a thoughtful assessment of some of the current deficiencies of current philanthropy.  He offers a clearer philosophy of what role philanthropy should play in a liberal democracy.  He points out new challenges posed by modern philanthropy to a liberal democracy.  He recognizes that deeply rooted philanthropy practices cannot be easily abolished and, on balance, he does not wish this philanthropy to be abolished, only regulated effectively.

The author identifies the problems posed by current philanthropy.  He identifies philanthropic waste, the distorting effects of philanthropy on public policy, the minimal impact of philanthropy in improving justice or reducing poverty, donor timidity, the distorting effects of the perpetual lives of non-profit foundations, philanthropy secrecy, unnecessary tax subsidies, tax shelters, vanity projects, donor eccentricities, and the distorting effects of charitable support for cultural, educational, and religious organizations. The author avoids discussion of individual giving practices.  The author focuses attention on the government policy choices regarding the government regulation of philanthropy practices in a democratic society.    

With the help of his philosophy of philanthropy, his arguments in support of philanthropy in a liberal democracy focus on the valuable support of philanthropy for strengthening cultural pluralism and discovering beneficial innovations within long-term giving perspectives across generations.  He leaves open questions of philanthropic paternalism, created dependencies, and manipulation. He raises, but does not solve, problems of the power of the rising donor-advised funds, and limited liability companies (LLC), which avoid even the modest regulations and transparency standards imposed by government on traditional philanthropy.  

Philanthropy is subsidized by the public, but philanthropy is poorly accountable to the public.  The author initiates a needed rethinking process regarding the justification, and standards, for accountability for current philanthropic practice in a liberal democracy. His gentle suggestions for philanthropic improvement include public transparency, better leadership, long-term goal viewpoints, limited terms for charities, and philanthropic focus on the challenges of justice and equality.  He does not provide an outline of a sound legislative accountability regulatory framework in a liberal democracy. Like many current critics of philanthropy, he offers no practical solutions to the problems he identifies, but he encourages development of solutions.

This book provides an excellent bibliography, a standard index, and interesting endnotes.


The book reflects a universalist perspective.  Philanthropic challenges are not restricted to the U.S., but he uses the U.S. as his prime example.  His purpose is to think about the role of philanthropy in all political contexts from a global perspective as it applies to the U.S.


The book contains no reference to the notable role of Quakers in the historical development, or current philosophy of, philanthropy.

Quaker charities are caught up in the institutional tangles that the author describes.  Quakers have not developed a shared understanding of the role of Quaker philanthropy in liberal democracy.  Quaker organizations have not taken a lead in setting standards for the philanthropy context in which Quakers function regarding standards of transparency, the perpetual institutional life of foundations, or focus on justice and poverty.  Quakers have provided no discernable pathway for joining in the self-criticism of the philanthropy community or how to remain undistorted by it.  Quakers are part of the problem so far, despite much good service of their philanthropy in the past.


  • Should liberal democratic governments provide tax subsidies for philanthropy?
  • What leadership and followership role should Quakers take for the stability and administrative regulation of philanthropy in the U.S.?
  • Do Quakers have any obligation for aiding the improvement of philanthropy in the larger world beyond the U.S.?


Rob Reich, Just Giving: Why Philanthropy is Failing Democracy and How It Can Do Better (2018)

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