University Diaries has celebrated this editorial from Inside Higher Ed about the so-called ''philanthropy'' of giving endowments to elite universities that seek out the children of millionaire's children of millionaire's children, etc. Why give endowments to Harvard, who doesn't need them, and whose students are largely from the upper classes, and then call it ''charity''?
''I am becoming less and less tolerant of people who pass wealth on to the privileged and masquerade it as philanthropy. Philanthropy is the voluntary act of donating money, goods or services to a charitable cause, intended to promote good or improve human well being. When a billionaire gives money that will benefit people who are more than likely already well off or who already have access to huge sums of money, attending the ninth richest university by endowment, this is not philanthropy. This simply extends the gross inequities that exist in our country — inequities that one day will come home to roost.''
It gets at something I've been wondering about lately- perhaps the problem isn't that there are poor people in America; there are probably always going to be poor people in free market capitalist societies. But I think the problem is one of civic equality instead of social equality- that is the poor and the rich now live in radically different worlds, whereas they used to live in a shared society through shared civic institutions that don't really exist any longer. Corny as it sounds today, in my Grandfather's day, the poor could follow steps X, Y, and Z (provided they were white) and become middle class, and their kids could follow steps X, Y, and Z and become upper middle class. I think the reason that social mobility has declined so sharply is that civic interaction has all but ended. Being up to my neck in the French Revolution right now, I'm a bit skeptical that a society with almost no social mobility and an increasingly useless inherited upper class (and what else would you call Paris Hilton but the product of a decadent aristocracy?) is built to last.
Perhaps what people should be working for isn't just ''social justice'' but ''civic justice'' or even ''cultural justice'' of some sort.