In his 2008 book, Philanthrocapitalism: How Giving Can Save the World, The Economist’s Matthew Bishop asserts that, through philanthropy, the very wealthy can serve as “hyper-agents,” “who have the capacity to do some essential things better than anyone else.” Despite criticism—such as the charge by social critic Diane Ravitch that school reform donors such as Bill Gates and Eli Broad constitute an unaccountable “billionaire boys club”—Bishop continues to believe that the super-rich can be best at finding solutions to social needs not being addressed (or being addressed well) by government and can both provide financial resources and convene partners and the interest groups that are needed. At the same time, he cautioned in this year’s Simon Lecture that, in an age of inequality, wealthy philanthropists must be mindful of the ways to engage the public, or risk public backlash.
Matthew Bishop is U.S. business editor and New York bureau chief of The Economist. In addition to Philanthrocapitalism (with Michael Green), he is also the co-author (with Mr. Green) of In Gold We Trust? The Future of Money in an Age of Uncertainty and The Road from Ruin (2010; also with Green) on capitalism in the wake of the 2008 financial crash. New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg has called Philanthrocapitalism, available in a new paperback edition, “the definitive guide to a new generation of philanthropists who understand innovation and risk-taking, and who will play a crucial part in solving the biggest problems facing the world.”