The Ethics of Global Philanthropy

Global philanthropy is a topic that invites examination across disciplines, including law, ethics, economics, sociology, political science and more – particularly as activity in the field grows in a globalized world.  So I’d like to welcome a new volume of essays, Giving Well: The Ethics of Philanthropy, edited by Patricia Illingworth, Thomas Pogge, and Leif Wenar (Oxford 2011).

Although the title is philanthropy generally, the essays in the book tend to emphasize global and cross border philanthropy, with all the attendant issues of cosmopolitanism, community, etc.  The contributors include major figures such as Jon Elster, Peter Singer, and Alex de Waal.  Like many readers, I  resist edited books, but this one is finely edited and the contributions fit together well.  It would make, for example, a useful book of readings in courses in international relations, law, economics, etc.  I think general readers would find it a coherent volume.

I have a contribution in the volume, “Global Philanthropy and Global Governance: The Problematic Moral Legitimacy Relationship Between Global Civil Society and the United Nations.”  I’m afraid it is the outlier essay in the book with respect to the admirable coherence otherwise noted above – the one that least connects to the topic of philanthropy in a specific sense of philanthropists and their ethics.  It is an essay instead fundamentally about the role of NGOs in the global political space, and a challenge to some of the legitimating roles assumed even at this late date for NGOs.  I’ve been making this critique for a long time, of course.

Cover flap description, below the fold.

So long as large segments of humanity are suffering chronic poverty and are dying from treatable diseases, organized giving can save or enhance millions of lives. With the law providing little guidance, ethics has a crucial role to play in ensuring that the philanthropic practices of individuals, foundations, NGOs, governments, and international agencies are morally sound and effective. In Giving Well: The Ethics of Philanthropy, an accomplished trio of editors bring together an international group of distinguished philosophers, social scientists, lawyers and practitioners to identify and address the most urgent moral questions arising today in the practice of philanthropy. The topics discussed include the psychology of giving, the reasons for and against a duty to give, the accountability of NGOs and foundations, the questionable marketing practices of some NGOs, the moral priorities that should inform NGO decisions about how to target and design their projects, the good and bad effects of aid, and the charitable tax deduction along with the water’s edge policy now limiting its reach. This ground-breaking volume can help bring our practice of charity closer to meeting the vital needs of the millions worldwide who depend on voluntary contributions for their very lives.

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