Sunday, August 10, 2008

Still more debate on Just Another Emperor

Michael Edwards continues the debate with a fresh comment, but says it's his last post because everything he says I dismiss as spin. That's too bad, because Michael is starting to actually engage with some of the arguments I'm making, and avoids the most objectionable rhetorical techniques that I keep pointing out.

It's true that I have a serious problem with the claims made by Just Another Emperor, and with the rhetorical techniques used. I point out that that these techniques are weak in quite a number of ways. His subtitle on Just Another Emperor is "the Myths and Realities of Philanthrocapitalism." My thesis is that his pamphlet (as he describes it) is long on myth and short on reality.

I'd summarize his pamphlet as building its case as follows:
- "Philanthrocapitalsm is a movement is flawed in both its proposed means and its promised ends"
- A key means is social enterprise (social entrepreneurship)
- Philanthrocapitalists and social entrepreneurs are all about injecting business thinking and approaches to solving social problems, and effectively ignored social justice and advocacy issues
- This doesn't work, is fatally flawed, etc.
- Therefore, we need drastic policy reforms to solve this problem

So, on to the first point in the latest comment. Edwards challenged me to provide any evidence that "the new elite philanthropists are more likely to give globally and to social sector causes and leaders drawn from disadvantaged communities." I did so, by demonstrating that the three leading social entrepreneurship groups are majority focused globally rather than domestically in wealthy countries, and fund leaders drawn from disadvantaged communities. So, in his comment, Edwards wants a comprehensive study of the "giving patterns of the two groups" (philanthrocapitalists and the non-philanthrocapitalists?). So, his challenge to provide any evidence being met, now shifts into a request for a comprehensive study.

One of the other problems I had with the pamphlet was "Not He, Not She, it’s the Philanthrocapitalist Behind the Tree!" Edwards criticizes the philanthrocapitalists as a general movement, and then says generally nice things about specific ones. So, it's hard to figure out who is being criticized.

So, I built my argument around the social entrepreneurs, groups and philanthrocapitalists mentioned in the pamphlet. If the case is philanthrocapitalists inject too much business thinking into the social sector by backing social entrepreneurs, and then I show the incredibly progressive and diverse nature of the three largest social entrepreneur networks, then who are the "bad social entrepreneurs" and who are the "bad philanthrocapitalists?" If Edwards can't show who they are and that they represent most of the activity of these groups, then his case is unproven. Criticizing anonymous straw-men is easy, criticizing actual leaders is hard. Where's the myth and the reality in the two cases being made by Edwards and me?

My goal in critiquing Edwards' pamphlet, as I stated:
My goal in this critique is not to prove the opposite set of facts conclusively. It is to point out weaknesses in the case being made so that the conclusions seem less foregone than the author would represent. As a matter of personal opinion, I think the fact set points in the opposite direction. I believe that social entrepreneurship and philanthrocapitalism are a powerful force for empowering disadvantaged communities and improving civil society.

Edwards continues by claiming that he doesn't call anyone a tax evader: quoting from his pamphlet:
Corporate tax evasion is one of the dirtiest business secrets and an “Achilles heel” of the philanthrocapitalist claim to pursue the social good, so pay your taxes instead of sheltering your profits in havens by the beach.

Gentle reader, if you were a philanthrocapitalist and read the foregoing passage, you might just take it a personal attack. Especially if it were labeled as the Achilles Heel of your philanthropy. Now Edwards tells us that he's talking about corporate tax evasion that costs developing countries $385 billion per year. The link between the philanthrocapitalists he names and developing country corporate tax evasion seems pretty tenuous to me.

If a senior person from the Ford Foundation (disavowing as Michael does, that this work is supported by Ford) makes a package of policy recommendations, people take the recommendations seriously. Regulation of nonprofits globally is an important issue, and I'm concerned that someone make actually adopt this package of reforms, making some of the "voluntary" reforms compulsory. I also question a reform package that seems to single out certain social organizations. Why single out social enterprises as needing board and accountability reform? Why not require all nonprofit organizations to do so? Then the argument will shift from demolishing straw man philanthrocapitalists and social entrepreneurs to deciding whether these reforms make sense for the sector in general. I'm sure the folks at Independent Sector (the leading association in the U.S. concerned with the nonprofit sector) would have reactions to the recommendations in that case.

My objections to Just Another Emperor are mainly the denigration of philanthrocapitalists and social entrepreneurs, a group of people who I believe strongly do more pound for pound, dollar for dollar for society than government and traditional philanthropy (in this case, I'm referring to traditional charity-focused philanthropy, not the foundations founded by past generations of philanthrocapitalists like Rockefeller, Ford, Carnegie, MacArthur, etc.). If Michael wants to reform all foundations and nonprofit groups, that's a different debate. But, I think he's truly failed to make the case that philanthrocapitalists and social entrepreneurs are the place to start.

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