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The Greater Good: How Philanthropy Drives the American Economy and Can Save Capitalism Paperback – August 12, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

As president of Connecticut College in the 1990s, Gaudiani saw the school's endowment quintuple, no doubt bolstering her enthusiasm for philanthropy and inspiring this foray into writing about public policy. Declaring "no people on earth are as generous with their money as Americans are," Gaudiani posits "citizen generosity" as not just an alternative to government spending or corporate investment, but an integral fulfillment of the nation's "democratic imperative" of upward mobility. She mostly chooses her historical examples well, as in sections on Chicago's vibrant (and lucrative) museum culture and the origins of the March of Dimes, but does stumble occasionally: as evidence of our generosity, an early chapter observes that 89% of Americans made charitable donations in 2001-but fails to mention that September 11 might have made the year's giving patterns atypical. Her optimism also leads to a debatable argument that the happiness the founding fathers wanted us to pursue lay in contributing to others' success and that revived attention to various religious championings of generosity could inspire a philanthropic revolution. Gaudiani makes much of the idea that we need charity because we can't rely on government to fix our problems, especially since we hate paying taxes, and conservatives and libertarians will undoubtedly cite this book to support increased tax cuts "freeing up" money for donations. Some will agree, some will not, but what can anyone really say against a book that suggests we all give more to charity?
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

In a way, former Connecticut College president Gaudiani has an axe to grind. Her thesis here is that generosity, as one of the most widely shared U.S. values (on average, we give 2 percent of our Gross Domestic Product, compared to the U.K.'s statistic--our closest competitor--of 0.7 percent), is fast receding. She builds her case carefully, pointing to the tremendous positive impact American philanthropy has had on human, physical, and intellectual capital, from the GI Bill and Sears Roebuck-founder Julius Rosenwald's construction of Chicago's famed Museum of Science and Industry to the formation of such nonprofits as MADD and Environmental Defense. To continue those kinds of contributions, she contends, demands eight different solutions, including making meaningful partnerships, plans that grow giving, more home ownership for low- and lower-middle-income citizens, community centers, among others. It is, indeed, an intelligent and well-reasoned argument designed to promote the greater good. And, on paper at least, it works. Barbara Jacobs
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Holt Paperbacks; First Edition edition (September 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805076921
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805076929
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,280,537 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Torrey K. Byles on August 11, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This book is a manifesto and an operational guideline. It explains the "third force" of our social-economic system: philanthropy, and its pivotal role in insuring the successful functioning of free-enterprise in the economic sphere and democracy in the political sphere.

The balance struck between capitalism and democracy is what matters, she says. And that balance is struck by acts of generosity.

"Generosity is capitalism's open and pragmatic acknowledgement that, since democracy's freedoms enhance capitalism's economic powers, then democracy deserves assets from capitalism that contribute to its strength." P. 23. "Capitalism needs democracy's value to remain defensible in society. Conversely, democracy needs capitalism's wealth creation for pursuing justice and opportunity for all." (p. 21)

Gaudiani makes the point that philanthropy (including volunteerism and giving) has been a critical component to the success of the American culture. It was particularly strong in the earlier part of the 20th century: during the "Progressive Era." Since 1970, however, the philanthropic urge has dissipated in relative terms. Because the distribution of wealth continues to get more skewed, and with the conservative trend in today's politics and zeitgeist fostering further disparities between rich and poor and the dismantling of social services such as universal health and social security, the need for philanthropy is never before greater.

But the need isn't simply for more dollars to be given. The crisis is in understanding generosity and how it is part of human happiness. A correct understanding of self interest is needed, she says.

We are at a crossroads and a crisis in our sense of philanthropy and generosity, according to Gaudiani.
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9 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Louis Carter on November 8, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Any leader, executive, or member of our world society can learn and immediately benefit from this book. Dr. Gaudiani is one of the most exceptional and worthy leaders of our time. Her words of wisdom in this book exemplify the essence of her daily leadership practices. Just as the best leaders of our time have displayed, she is optimistic about human behavior and motivation. Critics' opinions expressed only underscore her importance and our need for her as a leader. Ironically, these opinions bring to light the necessity for a civil society and the "Greater Good." Where there is resistance, there is dissatisfaction with the current state in a social system, and Gaudiani is the ideal leader to provide the vision and first steps to bring us to a more democratic, unified, and satisfied state. Read this book with an understanding that you are learning from an exceptional, understanding, compassionate, highly emotionally intelligent, extremely knowledgable, cultured, worldly leader.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Stephen M. Anderson on July 19, 2004
Format: Hardcover
"Most people think that Americans are generous because we are rich. The truth is that we are rich...because we are generous..." So writes Claire Gaudiani. Why should Christians read this book? We don't want to save "Capitalism," do we? Perhaps not, but we know we'd miss it, if it was destroyed. Yes, the Christian community ought to find time to read this wonderful book on the history of American Philanthropy and how it has, in the past, played a vital role in helping to maintain the uniqueness of the American experiment. More importantly, Gaudiani explains the perils of our current "giving habits," the cultural reasons for the trend, and solutions to restore the spirit of philanthropy. She writes, "As more of us are better able every year to satisfy our wants and needs, we are not sharing a larger percentage of our income and wealth. We are retaining it in savings or spending it on ourselves and our families. Yet some segments of the population...are experiencing reductions in their well-being, notably children." Christians for the most part should appreciate America's history of philanthropy, for much of it stems from either the Judeo-Christian worldview or simply from a genuine Christian faith that seeks to "give away what God has given to make other people's lives better." The Christian community should also find a welcome friend in her words: "Philanthropy has, in the past, been quicker than government to imagine, test, and implement innovative methods for solving social problems." Of all people and social groups, the Christian community should read this book, if for anything to learn to appreciate the history of Philanthropy. Giving and developing strategies for philanthropic adventures are more than mere altruism.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
With a hopeful view on the first decades of the twenty-first century, Claire Gaudiani presents in her book the stage on which a bold philanthropy and a democratic capitalism could act to sustain the nation's economic prosperity, by further advancing the cause that philanthropy could save American capitalism from its unfolding negative directions. She links her argument to rights that have forged the American culture from the founders' ideals to generations of immigrants' hopes: the opportunity for upward mobility, and the pursuit of happiness.

In essence, Gaudiani's aim is to build a compelling case about the role of philanthropy in the U.S. economy. Several factors concur to justify her mission: 1) the brand of U.S. capitalism that demands lower taxes, hence reduces resources for supporting the "social health" (153) of the nation; 2) the poorer 20% sector of the population that remains at a poverty level and could "become angriest" (150); 3) a kind of philanthropy that "enables people to build wealth, not dependency" (151). In many ways the author reaffirms the last point throughout the entire book, capturing early its relevance, as she states in the introduction "philanthropy is an investment in our democracy and our economy" (10).

Ultimately, Gaudiani appeals to the reader to see how an engaging and bold philanthropy would be the fitting strategy and the force for successfully promoting change in the directions of American capitalism, as well as for saving it, by moving it toward a more efficient and socially responsible democratic capitalism.
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The Greater Good: How Philanthropy Drives the American Economy and Can Save Capitalism
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