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:

Go deeper

The apocalypse scenario

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Democratic lawyers are preparing to challenge any effort by President Trump to swap electors chosen by voters with electors selected by Republican-controlled legislatures. One state of particular concern: Pennsylvania, where the GOP controls the state house.

Why it matters: Trump's refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power, together with a widely circulated article in The Atlantic about how bad the worst-case scenarios could get, is drawing new attention to the brutal fights that could jeopardize a final outcome.

Federal judge rules Trump administration can't end census early

Census workers outside Lincoln Center in New York. Photo: Noam Galai/Getty Images

A federal judge ruled late Thursday that the Trump administration could not end the 2020 census a month early.

Why it matters: The decision states that an early end — on Sept. 30, instead of Oct. 31 — would likely produce inaccuracies and thus impact political representation and government funding around the country.

Caitlin Owens, author of Vitals
1 hour ago - Health

Where bringing students back to school is most risky

Data: Coders Against COVID; Note: Rhode Island and Puerto Rico did not meet minimum testing thresholds for analysis. Values may not add to 100% due to rounding; Cartogram: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Schools in Southern and Midwestern states are most at risk of coronavirus transmission, according to an analysis by Coders Against COVID that uses risk indicators developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The big picture: Thankfully, schools have not yet become coronavirus hotspots, the Washington Post reported this week, and rates of infection are lower than in the surrounding communities. But that doesn't mean schools are in the clear, especially heading into winter.

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