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on May 15, 2011
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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on August 11, 2005
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. And, with the incredible rise in millionaire families, the next 30 years will see a class of people who face the choice: keep it all for myself and my children, or give some to insure that the society and culture in which I live will continue to thrive and be great.

It is the American tradition of generosity, according to Gaudiani, and not religion, empathy, or social pressure, that is the most likely cultural force that will sustain the philanthropic spirit. P.168.

Gaudiani speaks in terms of universal human values and wisdom (generosity is a value shared by all world cultures), and forcefully shows with example after example how this force operated in US history. Thus, her book is a great example of interpretive speaking for concrete social action. Her words invoke a cultural shift, and disclose a new world of possibility, while showing us that it can be based on beliefs we already hold, and actions that we already do. She does not introduce new metaphysical premises, but merely reframes, reconfigures, and adds emphasis to what is already within our capacity.

The strength of the book is its organic vision of philanthropy as necessary to fulfill democracy in a free enterprise economy; its comprehensive overview of the main areas of social capital (human, physical, and intellectual capital) and the scores of historical examples of how generosity and philanthropy made important investments in social capital; and its pragmatic program, with specific targets for philanthropy (e.g. increased home ownership by the poor) and plethora of possible mechanisms to achieve these targets (e.g. microlending, ROSCAs, matching donation banks, among others).

The questions that went unanswered by Gaudiani's book, for me, are in the realm of psychology and personal, emotional intelligence. Gaudiani speaks to the need for finding that "correct understanding of self interest" where giving, generosity, and concern for the collective is part of one's personal happiness. She references Enlightenment philosophy about living the good and honorable life, and the new direction in 'behavioral economics'. But she is light on detailing the emotional and psychological dimensions of generosity and altruism. How do I embody a generous outlook and make it work in my life? What does my motivation feel like when I pursue my self interest as incorporating the greater good? What do my interpersonal relationships look like? How do I balance my ego's need for recognition and my concern for others? How do I get from co-dependence to interdependence? How do I transcend my fears of not having enough money or not being good enough so that I am compassionate and know a sense of interconnectedness?

Gaudiani's case is compelling from an objective, systems point of view. And I agree, from this standpoint, with her provocative point: America is rich because it is generous (not vice versa). But from the subjective, personal, 'human interior' point of view, I still wonder how I can be generous and successful. From a personal standpoint, it seems, I can't be generous until I am rich. Perhaps the psychological aspects are for another book.

Gaudiani points to the world's culture wisdom traditions as providing the possibilities for restoring generosity as a prominent value in society. Generosity is truly a universal human value. All cultural traditions esteem it highly. The very concept of human being in the Chinese tradition incorporates benevolence. The Hindu concept of Ahimsa includes sharing one's prosperity with others. The Islamic tradition discourages interest and debt-based financial cooperatives in favor of equity sharing arrangements.

Gaudiani suggests that the cultural diversity of the US - with all the wisdom traditions represented here - is a huge untapped asset for bringing forth new understandings of generosity in our culture. This multidimensional value, that interpenetrates all domains of life, can be re-energized in our culture, she suggests, by encouraging the different ethnic traditions to bring it out.

To me this is an area where citizen discussion groups and workshops could play a big role. These programs would have individuals come together to share their experiences and emotions around the realities of making a living, taking care of oneself, and taking care of others. This is a big complex thing for people to work on, and it is better done within groups, not by individually reading a book. If a companion book is to be written to Gaudiani's important current book, it would be a guidebook for discussion groups to unpack these many personal, life history, and cultural aspects around self interest, the pursuit of happiness, and cultural renewal.
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on July 19, 2004
"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. After reading Gaudiani's book, I find that philanthropy of any kind (American or Christian charity) is the human experience where self-interest and compassion are not in conflict. It is in the best interest of Americans (dare I say Christians) to ensure that everyone has access to the American Dream--the dream of upward mobility. In the humble opinion of this reviewer, more Christian communities and churches should design their own philanthropic adventures and meet the social needs that are knocking on their church doors.
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on November 8, 2003
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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on November 13, 2003
I felt compelled to write this review because of the poor content by some of the other contributors -- one who didnt event read the book and the other ranting a personal attack with no focus on the book itself.
As a teacher, Colleen Kyle should know better than anyone else to actually read books before judging them. She might find herself actually learning something from the research of others. This is not a history book, and it doesnt claim to be one. Its encouraging people to re-think philanthropy and the long term impact generosity can have by showing how we have all benefitted from private giving already.
Mr. Chuck Jones needs to spend more time actually giving something back to society and little less time complaining about those who choose to take the personal and professional risks required to be a leader.
I would encourage people to read Gaudiani's book, to learn about how generosity affects society, and then think about what they can do in their local community to improve the lives of the less fortunate.
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on December 10, 2003
The Philanthropic Revolution started thousands of years ago in the fields of Eygpt when people then new that we need to "care" for each other. Give water to the thirsty passer by.
Claire, with a lot of compassion and breadth, reminds us the the "greater good" needs to be reenvigorated, as did Jane Addams' project to care for the larger community.
Chapter 6 go directly to the undrlyting feeling of the American Spirit.
The past 100 years shows us how to really appreciate and gain from that original intent. This book put's it into perspective and rekindles the spirit of giving.
Happy New Year.
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on October 28, 2003
While I have not yet read this book and am opposed to purchasing it, as a history teacher I must object to at least one egregious error in the Booklist review: the GI bill as an example of American philanthropy? Excuse me? It was a federal law using federal monies for the greater good of the nation. Everyone paid for it.
As a former fundraiser, I know (as does Ms. Gaudiani) that motivations for philanthropy are rarely entirely altruistic: ego and self interest are huge motivators, as is the current tax system which provokes wealthy individuals to make donations to institutions of their choosing. Politicians going back to Alexander Hamilton have understood this. I applaud the largesse of the American people, but an argument that, among other flaws, compares our rate of giving with Breat Britain's, a country whose inhabitants pay higher taxes for the greater good of all citizens, seems specious.
I advise those considering purchasing this book to get their American history from more reliable sources.
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