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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

If charity is giving alms to the needy, then philanthropy is charity's more high-minded and strategic relation.

The big picture: Philanthropists don't want to give a man a fish; instead they want to take credit for building a proof-of-concept that will persuade governments around the world to invest in large-scale programs of fishing pedagogy.

As Michael Bloomberg puts it: “It’s philanthropy’s job to take risks — and government’s job to scale solutions.”

  • Philanthropy is a central part of how the very rich turn their money into power. The extremely rich, by their nature, tend to be extremely ambitious: They want to change the world in certain ways, and are happy to use their wealth to do so.
  • That's sparked a backlash from anti-plutocrat gadflies like Anand Giridharadas. Extreme wealth creation has spurred giving among the nouveau riche, which in turn has conflated philanthropy and inequality in the public's mind.
  • Trump's tax cuts have removed philanthropic incentives for many Americans. That's because the standard deduction is so large that the middle class no longer sees any benefit from itemizing charitable deductions.

Philanthropy is increasingly looking to supplant or replace government.

  • Swiss bank UBS, in its fifth annual report on billionaires, says that many "are seeking new ways to engineer far-reaching environmental and social change."
  • Within our lifetime, we will see “the reemergence of a benevolent aristocracy," UBS's head of Ultra High Net Worth, Josef Stadler, told Forbes.

How it works: Individuals like Charles Koch, Mike Bloomberg and Bill Gates use their philanthropies to advocate for societal changes and interventions that they would like to see enacted by governments. Often they engage in explicit lobbying, and often that lobbying is successful, both domestically and internationally.

  • Older philanthropies may no longer be controlled by their founders, but care just as much about changing global public policy. The Ford Foundation, for instance, has focused on combating inequality around the world — something that can only be done if it gets governments on board.

What they're saying:

Foundations are an unaccountable, nontransparent, perpetual, and lavishly tax-advantaged exercise of power."
Rob Reich, Stanford University

Why it matters: Politicians are accountable to the electorate. Charitable foundations and the billionaires who fund them, on the other hand, are accountable to no one. As Reich says, their actions therefore deserve more scrutiny than gratitude.

The bottom line: Insofar as philanthropy has a positive effect, it does so via deeply undemocratic means.

Go deeper:

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Trump dogs “dull” DeSantis ahead of potential 2024 matchup

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Donald Trump is trashing Ron DeSantis in private as an ingrate with a "dull personality" and no realistic chance of beating him in a potential 2024 showdown, according to sources who've recently talked to the former president about the Florida governor.

Why it matters: The two are among the most popular Republicans in the country, and as the former president eyes another run in 2024, he's irked by DeSantis' popularity and refusal to rule out running against him.

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Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Concerns grow over CDC's isolation guidelines — Experts warn of more COVID-19 variants after Omicron — WHO recommends 2 new treatments — What "mild" really means when it comes to Omicron.
  2. Vaccines: America's vaccination drive runs out of gas— Puerto Rico expands booster shot requirements— Supreme Court blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for large employers.
  3. Politics: Vivek Murthy calls SCOTUS vaccine mandate block "a setback for public health" — Focus group says Biden weak on COVID response, strong on democracy.
  4. Economy: America's labor shortage is bigger than the pandemic— — CDC COVID guidance for cruise ships to be optional starting Saturday — The cost of testing.
  5. States: America struggles to keep schools open — Youngkin ends mandates for masks in schools and COVID vaccinations for state workers.
  6. World: Beijing reports first local Omicron case weeks before Winter Olympics — Teachers in France stage mass walkout over COVID protocols.
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British national named in Colleyville synagogue standoff

A law enforcement vehicle sits near the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue on Jan. 16. Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

British national Malik Faisal Akram took four people hostage at a Texas synagogue outside Fort Worth on Saturday, the FBI said in a statement.

State of play: Authorities had initially declined to release the name of the 44-year-old suspect or identify the hostages, all adults, though police chief Michael Miller confirmed that one of those held was Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, who leads the congregation.