Posted by Eileen Ellsworth
This is the second post reviewing the book “Why Philanthropy Matters: How the Wealthy Give, and What It Means for Our Economic Well-Being” by Zoltan J. Acs (Princeton University Press 2013)
A core idea from “Why Philanthropy Matters” is that the classic arc of American capitalism starts with opportunity. Only then does it move to entrepreneurship and innovation, wealth creation, and ultimately philanthropy. This cycle of American-style capitalism has endured for centuries. Acs is fascinated with the question of why does capitalism flourish here? He believes it is because American policies, laws, and societal structures have not only made it possible but encouraged it. Indeed, our institutions are fundamentally different from the rest of the world in this regard.
For example, an idle aristocracy never existed here as it did in Britain. In the 1700’s and 1800’s, the Puritans and Quakers innovated, worked hard, and accumulated wealth, a phenomenon which broke down the old world class structures. Wealth could now accrue to the “upwardly mobile” class through industry, not just inheritance. This “Bloodless Revolution” destroyed the existing monopoly on wealth and threw open the doors to opportunity for the many. And the emerging societal perceptions of wealth and opportunity shape our thinking to this day.