Is Philanthropy a Smokescreen for the Flaws of Unfettered Capitalism?

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October 20, 2011; Source: CSR Wire | This question is asked by Dr. Wayne Visser, the director of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) International in a blog post on CSR Wire. Visser questions whether philanthropy, particularly when is done with an eye toward improving one’s own marketing profile, done after every possible penny has been wrung out of society, may just be a smokescreen. He writes, 

We have to question the appropriateness and effectiveness of philanthropy in addressing the root causes of our biggest global challenges, which have more to do with the Achilles heel of Western capitalism itself, namely the environmentally unsustainable and socially inequitable growth and lifestyles that it spawns. How, for example, does so-called ‘philanthrocapitalism’ address the Western consumption, production and trade practices that are wreaking havoc with the world’s ecosystems and many of the world’s poorest communities? By and large, it doesn’t. I believe ‘giving back’ after the fact is just a smokescreen, notwithstanding the generosity it shows and the benefits that result.

Do you agree with Visser? Why or why not?—Ruth McCambridge

  • Louis Altman

    It’s not a smokescreen. The two-faced perfidy is right there out in the open. Corporations are not shy about showing off their charitable “generosity.” The question Visser raises is poignant– does the welcoming of such philanthrocapitalistic dollars make charities complicit in perpetuating the defects in the prevalent Western global economic model. It is really a “one step forward–two steps backward” dynamic. This is compounded by industry’s far greater marketing reach from the epicenter of its damaging practices–donees are practically unknown compared to this largely unfettered corporate power.

  • Terry Fernsler

    It’s amazing to me that there are not more comments on this. That, as a sector, we are more and more reliant on the philanthropy of corporations and the foundations and wealthy individuals who received their wealth from the practices of these corporations is a threat to the pluralism, and the sustainability, of the nonprofit sector.