Dated Apr 26, 2020; last modified on Sun, 19 Feb 2023

Criticism/Defense Of Billionaire Philanthropy

Taxes will probably not go to the same causes, e.g. reforming the bail system, grassroot efforts for migrants, etc.

Admittedly, these are things that the government should be doing, but it seems that the government doesn’t do enough. Furthermore, some of these issues so politicized, e.g. immigrants, that government support can be fickle.

Foundations are more effective than governments as they do their due diligence, e.g. Bill Gates. Reforming the government is a long battle.

Jack Dorsey (Twitter), set up $1B of his Square stock (28% of net worth) in an LLC to fund efforts for Covid-19, Girl’s Health and Education, and Universal Basic Income. An LLC is more flexible than a charitable organization, but that became a source of distrust on his motivations.

Sometimes they gift money to others, e.g. Bezos' $100m Courage and Civility Award.

Billionaire philanthropy isn’t too powerful. Its $10B annual budget is .25% of federal spending.

Unfair comparison… In 2017, American individuals, bequests, foundations and corporations donated $410B to US charities. Individuals accounted for $287B, which puts billionaires at 3.48%.

Billionaire philanthropy is not anti-pluralism. Billionaires saved stem cell research and Planned Parenthood. Billionaires work in parallel too, e.g. Bill and the CDC.

Pluralism : a condition or system in which two or more states, groups, principles, sources of authority, etc., coexist.

Democracy doesn’t automatically represent the popular will. Congress polls at 19% while Bill Gates is at 76%.

Again, Bill Gates is one of the more publicly favored billionaire philanthropists. I’d assume Robert Mercer’s work with Brexit polls way lower than 76%.

Getting the attention of mega-donors is hard. suggests that MacKenzie’s donations follow headlines, e.g. racial equity organizations after George Floyd’s murder.

That said, maybe it’s Bloomberg trying to make sense of a relatively opaque selection process? claims they identify and evaluate equity-oriented non-profits in categories and communities that have been historically underfunded and overlooked.

But the research must start somewhere. Being in the headlines is one way to ensure that a category or community gets considered.

On encountering research claiming that 6k children, under the age of five, were dying everyday from pneumonia and diarrheal disease, but providing soap and teaching them when and how to wash their hands could halve the deaths, Seipler spent $20k on grant writers and lawyers to apply to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, but the proposal was rejected. In the end, Seipler’s Clean the World , gets $.5 to $.8 per room per month from the average US hotel partner for processing the soap that would have been going to landfills. While it’s 4x more expensive than dumping in landfills, there’s a PR value to the hotels, e.g., significant portions of the hotel employees are from the countries where the recycled soap is sent to.

Effective Giving

GiveWell does research to find the charities that do the most good with received donations. This research is free for everyone. GiveWell doesn’t take a cut from the donations. It’s a non-profit. GiveWell’s approach falls under the Effective Altruism (EA) umbrella.

GiveWell was recommended in the “Rationally Speaking” podcast by Julia Galef.

Key tenets of EA:

  • Impartiality (everyone’s well-being counts equally without regard to the individual identities of others)
  • Comparing the relative importance of different causes and allocating resources among them objectively;
  • Cost-effectiveness (large benefits for a given amount of money).

Criticism of EA:

  • Illegitimacy of weighing causes and beneficiaries against one another
  • Bias towards measurable (usually through randomized controlled trials) interventions
  • Perceived neglect of radical economic change to address how some came to require assistance.


  1. Against Against Billionaire Philanthropy. Scott Alexander. . Jul 29, 2019.
  2. Giving USA 2018: Americans Gave $410.02 Billion to Charity in 2017, Crossing the $400 Billion Mark for the First Time. . Jun 13, 2018.
  3. Jack Dorsey gives $1B to fund global Covid-19 relief. Jack Dorsey. . . Apr 7, 2020.
  4. Bezos Donates $100m Each to CNN Contributor Van Jones and Chef Jose Andres. Oliver Darcy. . . Jul 21, 2021. Accessed Jul 24, 2021.
  5. MacKenzie Scott's Money Bombs Are Single Handedly Reshaping America. Sophie Alexander; Szu Yu Chen; Shera Avi-Yonah. . . Aug 12, 2021. Accessed Aug 15, 2021.
  6. Seeding by Ceding. MacKenzie Scott. . Jun 15, 2021. Accessed Aug 15, 2021.
  7. GiveWell | Charity Reviews and Research. . . Accessed Oct 20, 2021.
  8. Effective Altruism - Wikipedia. . Accessed Oct 20, 2021.
  9. Used Hotel Soaps. Shawn Seipler; Zachary Crockett. . Accessed Feb 19, 2023.