Felix Salmon

Why it makes sense for Larry Page to donate his billions to Elon Musk

Three years ago, with a post entitled “philanthropy isn’t for profit”, I expressed the hope that we had finally reached a turning point, and that people would “do good to do good, rather than simply declaring that the best way they can do good is to chase profit as zealously as possible”. And maybe I was right. That post was directed in part at Matthew Bishop, who had written a silly article asking whether IBM had done more good for the world than the Carnegie philanthropies. But this evening, when I ran into Bishop at an event for rich people in a swanky midtown club, he couldn’t bring himself to defend Larry Page, who said something similar at TED:

When the 2-and-20 crowd drives economic research

Elizabeth Warren sent a letter to the CEOs of America’s biggest banks today, telling them to reveal how much money they give to Washington think tanks — policymakers and the public, she says, should know when they’re being fed a corporate-lobbying line, and when they’re getting valuable information from a genuinely independent think tank.

Philanthropy, stock-picking, and Presbyterian frugality

I love the story of Jack MacDonald, which is only becoming public now, after his death. The short version: MacDonald inherited a substantial fortune from his parents, the proprietors of MacDonald Meat Co. in Seattle. But he made the classic promise to himself, that he wasn’t going to let the money change his life — and he kept it. He worked as a government lawyer for 30 years, he clipped coupons, he wore tatty sweaters, and even at the end of his life he was imploring his doctor to treat him only with generic drugs. He died a happy man, and bequeathed his fortune to three charities: the law school from which he graduated in 1940; Seattle Children’s, a pediatric research institute beloved of his mother; and the Salvation Army, in memory of his father.

Why privately-financed public parks are a bad idea

If you want to find the most valuable land in the world, you have to look for two things. Firstly, find a rich, densely-populated city. Secondly, take a map of the middle of that city, and look for open space: parks, rivers, lakes. Look at the land bordering that open space, where offices and apartments can avail themselves of spectacular views — that’s where land is going to be the most expensive. Indeed, ultra-luxury condo developer Arthur Zeckendorf recently told the NYT that once he finishes the building he’s working on right now, he doesn’t have anything else in particular that he’d like to build: “We have looked at every single site in Manhattan, but we haven’t found one that meets our criteria to be on a park.”

Why charitable donations to public schools are OK

Rob Reich is worried about school inequality. (Longer, more fun version here.) When it comes to education, as in so many other fields, the rich just get richer, leaving everybody else behind. His Exhibit A: the parents of wealthy Hillsborough, California, who between them donate some $2,300 per child per year — all of it fully tax-deductible — to supplement the money coming from the state. This, says Reich, is not what charitable deductions are for:

How a Goldman Sachs scavenger hunt is like a private equity deal

The one thing missing from Euny Hong’s wonderful dive into the all-night adventure that is the Goldman Sachs scavenger hunt is an explanation of what, to any Goldman type, is surely the most interesting bit of all: the finances.

Can philanthropists be ruthless?

130621_Cover201.jpgCharles Kenny and Justin Sandefur have taken over the cover of the latest issue of Foreign Policy, with a classic of the QTWTAIN genre. The tl;dr version of their 4,000-word article (which is free, behind a registration wall): no, Silicon Valley cannot save the world. Still, there are some very good development innovations out there; the surprising thing is that you’re likely to find them not in Palo Alto but rather in Washington DC.

Adventures with quantitative philanthropy

Quantitative philanthropy definitely seems to be a Thing these days. In the Washington Post, Dylan Matthews is writing about GiveWell and about people who are taking high-earning jobs just so that they can give more money away; in the WSJ, Brad Reagan is writing about John Arnold and his determination “to solve some of the country’s biggest problems through data analysis and science”. (Free version here.) And Columbia University Press recently published The Robin Hood Rules for Smart Giving, a guide to the way in which philanthropies should use a framework called “relentless monetization” to guide where and how they spend their money.

When crowds disintermediate charities

Seth Stevenson has a problem with the fact that the Internet raised $703,168 for Karen Klein, the bullied bus monitor. That kind of money is “disproportionate”, he says, adding: