Picking up the garbage

Over at White Courtesy Telephone there’s a lively discussion right now about the proper role of foundations vis-a-vis government, sparked by a funder’s statement that foundations should advocate for the government to do more.  The whole public-private partnership issue seems to have acquired a new currency: the past 24 hours have brought two examples of the creeping notion that private money should power everything.  TypePad suggests that bloggers solicit their readers to support public schools, while an RFP from a city department seeks a consultant to do fundraising in support of the department’s work–which is picking up the garbage.  As the late Richard J. Daley said to a crowd of people at the Kennedy School awaiting a philosophical analysis of the task of a big-city mayor, "Da job of da mayor is ta pick up da garbage."  When it becomes da job of da foundations ta pick up da garbage, there’s not much left of self-governing communities.

I’m not one of those people who refuses to give money to food pantries because the government should be feeding people–it should, but until it starts doing so why punish poor people for my political failure?–but it’s clear that charitable money devoted to avowedly public purposes (schools, garbage collection, elder-care, park creation) crowds out charitable money available for other things–things we don’t expect government to produce, like artwork.  (Yes, there’s public funding for the arts, but what a terrible idea that is–more on that anon.)  Moreover, as I documented in a pair of articles in the Christian Science Monitor, private contributions to public facilities raise questions about whether contributors have somehow purchased special rights to those facilities–which suggests we’re backsliding to a condition of feudalism, where the seigneur has droits based on having, and spending, the most coin.

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2 Responses to “Picking up the garbage”

  1. M fred Friedman Says:

    Nonprofiteer

    I am just about over my “vacation.” In one sense that means that I am finishing the two and half weeks I spent not “working” i.e. going to meetings or writing proposals begging for money.. In another sense, it is over because for the first time in around ten years, (I don’t even know how long it has been,) I will have a paid job. Next Steps, NFP, that I have been trying to create for years, will pay me a paycheck. Since it only has enough money to pay me for three or four months I really don’t know what will happen in December.

    What does that have to do with your post? Well, I am not sure that it does perhaps I just wanted to brag. However, I think it does. Government and the people who work for government are paid to “promote the general welfare” that includes helping folks who find themselves in floods and people who for one reason or another do not have enough money to take care of themselves. Charities and the people that work for them are paid by donors or government to help folks who find themselves in floods or who for one reason or another do not have enough money to take care of themselves, I am involved in many public private partnerships and I have never seen a difference between them. To me they are all people who are getting paid while I am not. When I say that I want to make a living wage some of them look at me as if I should be grateful just being at the table.

    I do think that because taking care of poor folks is a “public good” unless the government pays for it by taxes it will always be under funded. So I suppose that charities must advocate for more money. But then I am not sure how they are different then a private for profit agency seeking more money. . And I suspect that divisions among government all advocate for more money. So again I do not really see the fundamental difference.

    Well this is too long already, as Mark Twain said “if I had more time, I would have written a shorter note.” Well for next three months I will continue to try to empower homeless and mentally ill people. I will “earn” a salary. Perhaps you and your readers can help me figure out what I should do. How I can balance my desire to make a living with my desire to change the world.

  2. Nonprofiteer Says:

    In a direct, functional sense there probably isn’t much difference between government support and private donor support, though the government money may have stricter reporting requirements attached. But government support has the potential to be adequate and private support doesn’t; therefore it’s appropriate for private nonprofits to advocate for government funding but not appropriate for government to press private nonprofits to take on more of the burden.

    But the broader topic you raise is key: the attitude among many in the nonprofit sector that those of us who work in it ought to pay for the privilege. At most nonprofits, there’s not a single member of the Board of Directors who gives as much money as any staff member foregoes in salary. Civil servants are paid better than nonprofit workers–so maybe that’s the best reason of all to have governments do the Lord’s work!

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