Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Langley Angle on Philanthropy

We live amid a revolution, one for which there is no parallel or no precedent in human history. It is not a revolution that produces social upheaval and human suffering. It is the antithesis and the potential solution to such revolutions. It it a revolution that has led to the voluntary transfer of wealth on a scale that no violent revolution could ever achieve. It is the American Philanthropic Revolution.

In the past year, Americans donated more that $300 billion to various charities. That's right -- more than $300 billion in a single year. And we have been giving on that scale (as measured as a percentage of the gross domestic product) for more than a hundred years. Even during difficult economic times, such as the Great Depression, Americans have given suprisingly generous amounts to churchs, schools, hospitals and other worthy organizations.

Why Americans give, what they hope to achieve and how we can better nuture this remarkable instinct will be covered in future blogs. This information will be provided for those considering giving money and those raising money, and all those interested in this most important social dynamic.

We must better understand this revolution so that we can ensure its perpetuation. It must be something that we never take for granted. That noble instincts from which it rises are not guaranteed; they must be recognized, appreciated and nurtured. Warren Buffett, "The Sage of Omaha," has said that capitalism "doesn't work" without philanthropy because it does not provide for the poor or those incapable of competing at the highest levels. Sage advice, indeed. A strong philanthropic culture serves as a counterweight to capitalism. Capitalism can create winners and losers, it can widen the disparity between "haves" and "have nots" but through philanthropy, capitalists can remediate social ills and widen the circle of opportunity. Philanthropy allows us to transfer wealth to causes or purposes that we deem most appropriate or most deserving. Philanthropy is an expression of "We the people." It is how we build a great system and how we can make it even better. It is democratic and therefore sustains democracy itself.

There is so much to be discussed. I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you and to hearing yours.

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