Care About Economic Equity? Then You Should Love Perpetuity

I've been digging into the philanthropy of Howard G. Buffett, who's yet another funder who plans to spend down and then close his foundation's doors. In his case, he's looking to blow through three billion bucks of Warren's money by 2045. 

This article, as well as my recent piece on Atlantic Philanthropies, has gotten me thinking about the old spend-down vs. perpetuity debate. And I guess, ultimately, I'm a fan of perpetuity, for the following reason: My top pet issue is economic equity in the U.S., and I've noticed that most of the funders laying out for work on jobs, fiscal issues, social insurance, and economic policy research are legacy foundations piloted by professional staff.

Very few living billionaires seem much worried that the U.S. economy isn't working for, oh, the bottom two-thirds of Americans. Capitalism has worked grandly for these folks, after all, and anyway their focus is on other issues, like climate change and conquering dread diseases. You know, "Great Man" legacy stuff. 

The big living donors who do care about equity tend to put their money into education, despite the limits to this approach at a time when the majority of jobs created in the U.S. don't require a college degree and no one quite knows how to bring back the mid-skilled jobs that created yesterday's middle class. 

There are exceptions, like Herb Sandler and George Soros. Of course, also, Chuck Feeney and Atlantic Philanthropies have prioritized health equity.

Mainly, though, the heavy lifting of trying to create an equitable economy, a stronger safety net, and fairer fiscal policies is funded by legacy foundations like Ford, Mott, Kellogg, and Rockefeller, as well as many community foundations and various smaller outfits—some of which, like the Russell Sage Foundation, have been around for a century. 

I could go into a long discussion about why professional philanthropoids are more attuned to the structural economic challenges facing ordinary people and the poor, but let's just cut to the chase: The nonprofit lifers spending philanthropic wealth are more liberal than the capitalists who pile it up.