Philanthrocapitalism and crimes of the powerful

Philanthropic enterprises
By Linsey McGoey, Darren Thiel, Robin West

This article has two main aims. First, we define and describe the notion of ‘philanthrocapitalism,’ a global movement that purports to make philanthropy more effective by applying the market logic of the corporate sector to the charitable sector. In contrast to other analyses of philanthrocapitalism, we suggest that an increase in the scale of private disbursements is not the defining feature of new philanthropic models. What is new is the use of bequests from philanthropic organizations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to directly subsidize large corporations. This point leads to our second main aim, which is to argue that the most important feature of the new philanthropy is the way that pro-market rhetoric espoused by philanthrocapitalists helps to confer moral legitimacy on pro-corporate government regulation and public spending that directly exacerbates economic inequality. Importantly, this moral legitimacy can only last as long as the negative effects of pro-corporate government wealth transfers on the public purse are strategically ignored. We suggest that philanthrocapitalist organizations perform an epistemological and moralizing function which renders corporate harms less apparent to the public. Drawing on Max Weber’s concept of charismatic authority and on research by criminologists into social harms and crimes of the powerful, we explore how and why elite philanthropic actors, whose existence and actions often harm the public, have managed to successfully uphold the push for market solutions to human problems as socially beneficial.


  • philanthrocapitalism
  • marketisation
  • public-private partnerships
  • charisma
  • social harm
  • strategic ignorance
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