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No Such Thing as a Free Gift: The Gates Foundation and the Price of Philanthropy Hardcover – October 20, 2015
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“The charitable model represented by the Gates Foundation is failing to address the root causes of inequality and ecological crisis. This path-breaking book is a sorely needed, historically grounded investigation into the difference between philanthropy and justice.”
—Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything and The Shock Doctrine
“Fierce … provocatively examines the power imbalances and ambiguities of charitable giving … a clear-eyed and much-needed study.”
—Andy Beckett, Guardian
“On both the left and the right, social critics sense that there is something deeply corrupt in the way we live now … With extraordinary insight and original investigation, Linsey McGoey understands how this twenty-first century mess was made. Her voice is reasoned and never shrill, her research is solid, and her courage is remarkable. Rather than spin far-fetched conspiracy theories, she simply shows what the oligarchs are doing in plain sight, which is frightening enough.”
—Jonathan Rose, author of The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes
“McGoey correctly questions whether Big Government would, in fact, be more efficient than Big Philanthropy in addressing the rise of inequality.”
“It’s worth hearing what she has to say, because it’s not said enough … we give too little scrutiny to people like Gates, and too much credence to the idea that philanthrocapitalism can ‘save the world.’”
“Picking up the cudgels wielded by Ida Tarbell and her fellow trustbusters, McGoey produces a startling report.”
“A timely criticism of a society that allows an individual to accumulate such a distorting amount of financial power; it is an indictment of unaccountable power.”
“A brave, intelligent and important book that raises vital questions about the full impact of a key source of the world’s public health funding. As the book shows the drive to do good can raise a host of ethical and policy questions—many of which have not been considered or even acknowledged prior to this book.”
—Arthur Caplan, New York University
“A book that is by equal measure provocative and compelling that finally gives a voice to concerns that many have silently harbored … charts the speed of the Foundation’s emergence and influence with conceptual fluency and historically referenced gusto that in parts left me gobsmacked.”
—Sophie Harman, Queen Mary, University of London
“Impeccably researched and beautifully written, Linsey McGoey’s book is the best and most complete examination of the Gates Foundation and the workings of big philanthropy. A must-read for anyone concerned with where the world is heading.”
—Michael Edwards, Distinguished Senior Fellow, Demos
“In this valuable, dense, but accessible book, McGoey illuminates a major cultural shift in leadership and control of power in the US. Highly recommended.”
“A lively and well-argued antidote to the comfortable but superficial assumption that giving money away is, by definition, good: it helps you understand why things are more complicated than that.”
About the Author
Linsey McGoey is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Essex. She has been a member of the World Health Organization’s expert steering group on the impact of a human rights–based approach to maternal and children’s health. She has published reviews and op-eds for the Guardian, Spectator, Globe and Mail and Open Democracy.
Top customer reviews
This book must be read. The power of Big Money and Big Foundations/Big Philanthropy is incredible and what is at stake is the quality of human life. The complexities of poverty, inequity, and disease far outweigh those of running corporations no matter how big and successful.
The charges against Gates boil down to a spoiled brat spending to please himself. Programs and purchases are made to benefit Microsoft and Coca-Cola, which the foundation stands to inherit from board member Warren Buffet. Its grants are made to US firms, three times more often than to local ones, on the ground where the need is both better understood and immediate. Much like government aid that must be used to purchase US goods and be shipped by US transport, The Gates Foundation benefits Americans more than Africans or Asians.
McGoey says Gates follows the footsteps of Andrew Carnegie, the great philanthropist who famously had Pinkertons shoot his employees for striking. He cut their already miserable wages by two thirds, at a time when his company enjoyed a tripling of revenues, all so he could continue to perform his munificent philanthropy. He built libraries, in his own name, all over the country. Today, all kinds of new billionaires take up highly targeted pet causes, with little regard for overall impact, goals or co-ordination, in exchange for massive tax relief. This steals from government revenues while enriching favored suppliers, cronies and politicians. We call this efficiency, and the rich congratulate themselves over it at conferences like Davos. In their minds, they are performing far better than government could. Meanwhile, education and healthcare workers strive to undo the mess they create and leave behind when they get restless.
The book reaches out in many directions, following the money in long tangents. The focus on Gates is valid, but in many ways unfair. The whole sector operates this way. For example, nearly a third of funders are invitation-only; new programs need not apply. Philanthropy is no less corrupt than transnational corporations, politicians or the dictators they support, which is hardly comforting. It makes No Such Thing As A Free Gift both revealing and uncomfortable. If our charities are this misleading, what is left?
McGoey really zeroes in on some particular areas of aid such as health provisions and agricultural help internationally to see the intricacies of how the lines between altruism and self-serving promotion are not so easily determined. She also explores the backgrounds of how some of the larger foundations came to exist -- for example through less than ethical business practices. The book paints a picture of the enormous wealth of the wealthiest 1% and how foundations serve their own purposes. Again, the focus is largely on Bill Gates and his story of amassing a fortune and giving away a lesser but significant fortune.
In the end, readers will have a better understanding of the role foundations play and will be able to make a more educated analysis of how they fit into our economy and social system. I think what we learn is what the author quotes from one of the opportunists she discusses, "Generosity can be very profitable." The book highlights how the wealthy use foundations to protect huge slush funds of wealth to be used beneficially according to their definition of beneficial.