Aug 13, 2022 - Economy

Philanthropy's post-neoliberal vision for democracy

Illustration of Supreme Court columns, with one replaced with a stack of quarters.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Institutional philanthropy, unlike individual charity, tends to focus on influencing governments. One sign of its current importance is the Inflation Reduction Act that is set to get signed into law next week.

Why it matters: Philanthropy is trying to shape the successor to neoliberalism.

The big picture: Neoliberalism, as an intellectual paradigm, replaced Keynesianism in large part thanks to significant philanthropic funding.

  • In a 2017 memo, Hewlett Foundation president Larry Kramer identified the William Volker Fund as a key early player, with at least half a dozen later funders, including the Koch family foundations.
  • Those foundations helped neoliberalism, with its emphasis on the power of free markets, replace the Keynesian vision of economies controlled by governments.

Where it stands: The Hewlett Foundation and others are now trying to lay the intellectual foundations for whatever comes next — whether it's called productivism, democratic capitalism, supply-side progressivism, or something else.

  • The big idea: Something will replace neoliberalism, which is dead. And that something should not be anti-democratic ethno-nationalism.

What they're saying: "The Inflation Reduction Act is solidly what we’re looking for," says Hewlett president Larry Kramer. "We had nothing directly to do with that bill. But the frameworks that underlie it were all things that were funded directly on the Hewlett side."

  • Go deeper: Axios' Andrew Freedman unpacks the politics and economics of the act, and explains why it doesn't include neoliberal climate solutions like a carbon tax.

The bottom line: Kramer is fully aware of the irony involved in an unaccountable private foundation trying to save democracy. But, what else can he do?

Go deeper