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What Makes Charity Work?: A Century of Public and Private Philanthropy Hardcover – September 12, 2000

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Editorial Reviews Review

Myron Magnet may be best known as one of the minds behind the "compassionate conservatism" of George W. Bush. His book The Dream and the Nightmare is said to be required reading in Bush circles, and it has informed much of what the Texas governor has tried to accomplish on the campaign trail and in office. Now comes What Makes Charity Work?--a collection of articles from City Journal, a low-circulation but highly influential magazine published by the right-of-center Manhattan Institute and edited by Magnet. The book's main theme is that public charity--the $5 trillion "war on poverty" and other government assistance programs--has been catastrophic. Traditional charity programs, writes Magnet in an introduction, promoted personal responsibility and self-reliance. During the 1960s, however, the public sector assumed a much larger role in aiding the poor. The result was devastating, as welfare programs taught the needy that they were victims of social forces outside their control and failed to give them the tools necessary for improving their lives. A fundamental problem, as one contributor puts it, was that "America jettisoned its traditional distinction between the deserving and the undeserving poor." What Makes Charity Work? examines this transformation before, during, and after it took place in a series of articles on everything from how Catholic charities served Irish Americans during the 19th century to a history of the Boy Scouts to an analysis of how pro-bono legal aid has evolved. Authors include Brian Anderson, Kay Hymowitz, Sol Stern, and City Journal's in-house reporting star, Heather Mac Donald (The Burden of Bad Ideas). There is a focus on New York City throughout the volume, but the lessons Magnet and his team of writers impart deserve an audience across the United States. One thing is certain: the "compassionate conservatives" will be taking notice. --John J. Miller

From Publishers Weekly

Influenced by "practical visionaries" such as Carnegie, Rockefeller and Ford, America began the 20th century with a judicious commitment to help those among the less fortunate who were most willing to help themselves. A century later, argues Mac Donald, a journalist and John M. Olin fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute, we are gripped in a choke hold by liberal social programs plagued by massive, systemic problems. In this crisp and well-argued collection of essays, she wonders why we tolerate generations raised on welfare, reinforce teen pregnancy (by, for example, providing day-care centers at high schools) and accept public schools where the three Rs are overlooked so that kids can work on perfecting their graffiti. Instead of blaming all of society's ills on a perceived insensitivity to diversification (e.g., racism and sexism), why don't we investigate what happened to individual responsibility? she asks. She swiftly and deliberately attacks liberal individuals and institutions of every stripeAfrom the most influential philanthropists to the leading public health institutions to the ivory towers of academia and the media, particularly the New York Times, which in her view not only reports the news but also creates itAwith the aim of exposing the flaws in their philosophies and the drastic, real-world consequences of their actions. Mac Donald's incisive insights deserve the thoughtful attention of voters of all political affiliations this election year. (Oct.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Ivan R. Dee (September 12, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1566633346
  • ISBN-13: 978-1566633345
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,777,741 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Myron Magnet is an editor of City Journal, a winner of the National Humanities Medal, and a New Yorker. For more, please see

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Adam Gonnerman on July 2, 2002
Format: Hardcover
"What Makes Charity Work?" is an excellent treatment of the subject of private charity from a libertarian/classic liberal perspective. Opening with compelling stories of private charitable work in the turn of the century northeast United States (mostly New York), the editor draws the reader in and keeps his or her interest all the way through the more intellectual and theoretical essays. As a Christian missionary and a Libertarian, I heartily recommend this book to those looking for an alternative to the dehumanizing government welfare programs. I would encourage readers as well to act on this information, and help out such private charities either through volunteerism or through financial donations, or both!
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Cox on September 12, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This collection of essays from the magazine "City Journal" examines the many approaches to public charitable works taken in the US over the last 150 years, and shows which ones were effective in helping the needy.
More importantly, it explains why the good ones worked and why the bad ones didn't -- and don't, even today.
The insights here are devastating to anyone who believes we need to give more money to existing welfare and charity programs, and profoundly empowering to anyone interested in finding approaches that will actually work, because they actually have.
(I am not an historian, so I am trusting that the authors are not flat-out lying. If they are, please write a book debunking them. If they aren't, then we should immediately change our entire approach to public charity in the US.)
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