The super-rich has always been involved in philanthropy with the earliest philanthropists tending to look for ways to aid their local communities. The benefits from the philanthropy of the richest in society used to be focused on the people at the other end of society who are looking to obtain some relief from this charitable work. In the 21st-century, the number of billionaires is rising and their age is falling meaning more are looking to give away their fortunes at a younger age. The question is, how many super-rich philanthropists are completing their work for the benefit of others and how many are looking to help
How does History inform Philanthropy?
The taxation system of the U.S. and the U.K. are similar and tend to be based on the income tax laws created in the U.K. in 1799. The Guardian reports the tax breaks that are still in place largely date back to this time when giving to charity was seen as a way of avoiding paying some of the taxation requirements charged to the super-rich by the U.K. Government.
What is different for the super-rich of the U.K. and the U.S., the world's top two philanthropic states is the definition of what a charity can be. The terms of charity in the U.S. are much broader than the U.K. and allows some of the world's elite to use their philanthropy to benefit themselves.
Deciding on a Cause
Who do you give your money to when you are donating to charity? This is a question the majority of us answer with an answer about choosing a cause that is close to our hearts. The Nation explains the super-rich are also looking to give their funding to the causes that affect their lives and business opportunities.
We can often follow the world's largest philanthropists in giving to certain causes we feel are important because we are told so by a wealthy person. However, if we delve a little deeper, we often find the wealthiest people in the world are looking to serve their own purposes when they highlight a philanthropic cause that is in need of our support.
Perhaps the biggest issue facing the world when the super-wealthy are looking to get involved in philanthropy is the money they are saving in the form of tax breaks. Giving to charitable foundations is usually free from taxation, meaning a wealthy person can give away part of their fortune to avoid paying taxes. This offers a number of issues, including moral ones about who gets to choose which cause is most important to the society we are all part of.
At the World Economic Forum of 2019, discussions were held by some of the world's richest people regarding how choices should be made about how their taxes are used. Instead of leaving these decisions to the Government elected by the people of a nation, most philanthropists are looking to avoid taxes and donate their money directly to the causes close to their hearts. Whether this is a morally correct position to take is questionable, but the world of philanthropy is changing to be more focused on the individual.
Furthering a Political Agenda
Impacting society is a powerful tool the super-rich like to use to make sure they are finding success for their favored political party. Examples of this form of philanthropy can be found on both sides of the political spectrum in the U.S. where the left-leaning George Soros and right-leaning Koch Brothers are all-powerful, Forbes reports.
These two mega-donors are using their philanthropy to push forward the political agenda they feel is the best option for themselves and the wider society. Taking a look at the work of the Koch Brothers, these conservative political leaders are known for supporting causes such as pro-life groups and used their fortune to support the formation of Super-PACs that have changed the political agenda of the U.S.
When we discuss the philanthropy of the super-rich, it can be difficult to look beyond the work of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett who have given away more than $60 billion between them. The work of the two to overcome polio and malaria is impressive, but spending their donations on education can be more complex and controversial.
The philanthropic work in the education sector of the super-rich is leading to a long-term change in the way the educational arena is looking. By giving donations to the largest colleges and universities the super-rich are creating areas of excellence at individual schools that shift attention and finding from smaller, community-based colleges.