Lucy Bernholz's Philanthropy and the Social Economy: Blueprint 2013 is now available for a free download from Grantcraft. Lucy's brilliance and breadth is staggering, even daunting, yet light on civil society. In her future, a digital generation turns to crowdsourcing, micro-payments, small gifts on and through the web, guided by indepth data about outcomes and impact, in order to create the world they want. They become social entrepreneurs to make money and do good. In this they are aided by impact investment firms, trusted intermediaries doing research on nonprofit and forprofit enterprises doing good, and by technologically savvy foundations like Gates and Hewlett who seed fund the evolving infrastructure of a market for good. Smart money seeks out high performining, high impact organizations, whether forprofit or nonprofit.
The vision is that of the market, and privately held social platforms that will take market share from stodgy nonprofits and from government programs. I find myself wondering, so often, what courses did these thought leaders not take in college, or what impact did their readings in political theory, ethics, sociology, religion, or the arts, not make upon them? As high level as this breathless futurism is, it still reads to me like boosterism. This is the bourgeois vision of the world we want, in which digital peons express their preferences with Like buttons, and micropayment, or investments in social impact firms, or desultory voting, but the real power is on Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and the thought leaders in business schools at Stanford, Duke, or Harvard. Politicians are there to be bought, in the market for good. In the account of the rising generation of digital natives, the tacit heros of Lucy's most recent blueprint, I saw no mention of Occupy. Big data played a role there too. That too took place in the public square, but was hard to monetize, own, or control, until the FBI coordinated a nationwide crackdown. Where, then, in Lucy's brave new world do we find, rights, dignities, representation, and justice for all? These subjects just seem not to come up (other than in discussions of privacy rights vs. the need for transparency of data), despite Lucy's position at Stanford's Center of Philanthropy and Civil Society.
The moral and political philosophy behind the Future of Good is utilitarianism. Yet, for all the innovative thinking there is no thought given to the limits of rationalism, utilitarianism, materialism, and their expression in markets. What works, works, I guess. Wish it worked for me, but soon I will be getting one of those treadmill operated generators, like social entrepreneurs are building for the third world, so I can keep the lights on in my Dumpster to study Great Books deep into the night, at least as long as I run fast in place.