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GIVING: Caring for the Needs of Strangers / Vol. 80, No. 2 (Summer 2013)

Arien Mack, Editor

This issue, following our conference on Giving, is intended as an avenue toward deepening our understanding of why we do give to others and why we should do so; what the roots of altruism are; how we can instill generosity in our young; what the religious and philosophical grounds for caring and giving to others are; and what the correct balance between private philanthropy and government welfare programs may be.

At a time when the gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen, when most countries in the world are suffering deep and destabilizing financial crisis leading to large increases in the number of the un- or underemployed, and when catastrophical natural and manmade disasters seem to be on the rise, causing vast amounts of human suffering, a conference on giving seemed virtually mandatory.


Even with the goodwill and intentions in the world, existing foreign aid actors often disempower rather than empower grassroots organizations and individuals, reinforcing deep-rooted structural violence. In today’s global economy, where foreign aid resources commonly fall short of dire and urgent social, economic, cultural and political needs, international development will depend on local communities to enact their own progress.


Although practices of giving and philanthropy have existed in most cultures throughout history, we tend to assume that the religious and philosophic grounds of these practices are more or less similar to those in European or Anglo-American countries. The illuminating articles in this section by Diana L. Eck and Amy Singer enlarge our cultural horizon of the history, motivation, and practices of giving in Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, and Islamic cultures.

Charity is an integral part of Muslim life at every level of society, in every era, and across the entire lifespan of individuals. Obligatory alms and voluntary donations are acts that concern all Muslims. Charitable endowments have sustained and promoted Muslim cultural and social institutions alike. Unhappily, Muslim charity has received some very bad press since September 11, 2001, with analysts and observers frequently emphasizing the links between charity and extremist violence. Few have stopped to consider seriously why it is that the discourse and practice of charity are so prominent in Muslim communities, historically and today. Yet even a brief inquiry reveals an entire world of belief and practice in which giving is fundamental. In the varying historical circumstances of Muslim states and societies, giving has been part of a Maussian system of entitlement and obligation, creating and reflecting networks of responsibility and dependence.

How does the gift express deeply human values? What does it mean to care for the needs of strangers? What are the motivations of the givers? What are the expectations of the recipient? This talk examines our understandings of wealth and charity in the context of a traditional culture that value renunciation as a religious ideal.


The article explores social connectedness as what humans need most. It’s placed very high on the hierarchy of needs, just after basic physiological and safety requirements. But psychological research suggests that it may place higher: even when their biological, physical self is well taken care of, humans can wither and die if they are not exposed to touch, loving care of, and connection with other humans.

Darwin's great scientific contribution was to reveal how a blind, mindless, purely physical process can cause the complex functional design we see all around us in the biological world. By introducing the concept of natural selection, Darwin explained how evolution builds devices. Here, we explain how natural selection can build devices whose function is to cause organisms to take actions that boost the welfare of other organisms, which we might call benefit-delivery devices. Benefit-delivery devices come in two broad types: (a) Those that evolve because the genes that assemble them during ontogeny increase the direct reproductive success of the organism in whom those genes reside, and (b) those that evolve because the genes that assemble them during ontogeny increase the reproductive success of exact replicas of those genes that reside in other organisms (most recognizably, in the organism's genetic relatives). In this paper, we catalogue some of the benefit-delivery devices with which natural selection might have outfitted human beings and illustrate how they seem to work.

At the root of altruism lie empathy and compassion. While some may think that we are mostly driven by selfishness, more and more research is showing that social connection is a fundamental human need and that we are wired to experience empathy and compassion. We thrive with greater social connection, resonate deeply with others emotions and experiences at the level of our physiology and brain, and experience pleasure and transcendence helping others and observing others being helped.

It is often assumed that humans are inherently selfish, and cultural norms and practices have to override these tendencies to enable altruistic behavior. Specifically, young children are thought to be driven mainly by immediate selfish motivations, acquiring altruistic behaviors through the internalization of social norms or being rewarded for socially desired behavior. Moreover, it has been argued that our closest evolutionary relatives are motivated by selfish interests alone, not caring about the needs of others. This comparative evidence would lend further support for the notion that human-unique cultural factors are foundational. However, I present recent work with young children and chimpanzees that indicates that human altruism might have deeper roots in ontogeny and phylogeny. I will summarize these studies to entertain the possibility that human altruism is not due to cultural practices alone, but reflects a biological predisposition that we might share with our closest evolutionary relatives.


Over the past few decades, globalization has transformed the economic, political and social landscape. Governments are responding to the economic challenges globalization poses by changing their orientation from social welfare and the provision of social services to a focus on fiscal prudence and economic competitiveness. And as the state has retracted, private actors including businesses, foundations, NGOs, social entrepreneurs, celebrities, and civic organizations have either by default, pressure, or their own initiative become a growing force in shaping economics, cultures, values, governments and civic life.

Foundations are among the oldest existing institutions. They have existed, in various forms, across many cultures throughout history, and have been experiencing a veritable renaissance over the last two decades, both in the United States and elsewhere. What are the rationales for foundations in modern societies, and what propels their growth in scale and scope in the early 21st century? Posing fundamental questions, the present essay, written in the form of theses and counter-theses, assesses various reasons for the continued existence and relevance of foundations by pulling in perspectives from the US, Britain and Germany. The questions posed assume policy relevance as the present foundation boom takes place in an era of reduced state capacity to respond to public problems, and changes in the democratic fabric of society.

A defining feature of philanthrocapitalism is not, as its critics suggest, a determination to replace traditional grant-making or the democratic processes of civil society with so-called market-based solutions, but rather its laser-like focus on achieving “impact.” From Bill Gates on down the wealth ladder, those philanthropists who are driving the evolution of philanthrocapitalism are doing so not out of some simplistic faith in a capitalistic ideology but in the pragmatic belief that to do so is more likely to help solve the world’s biggest problems than relying solely on traditional grant making.e.

Peer pressure is generally considered a negative influence, one that can pull people into anti-social behavior. But it can be an equally powerful force for encouraging altruistic acts. Pressure from peers can set a social norm of altruism and can inspire people to act heroically or altruistically in order to win the group's respect. Most broadly, positive peer pressure is an organizing tool that can be used to create social movements for good causes.


Philanthropic giving, which is nominally an individual’s private decision, is nonetheless intertwined in public policies. This has been the case for millennia. Charitable corporations, trusts, testamentary transfers of property, and regulatory oversight of charities are part of a long legal history.

People have been giving away their money, property, and time to others for millennia. What's novel about the contemporary practice of philanthropy is the availability of tax incentives to give money away. Such incentives are built into tax systems in nearly all developed and many developing democracies. More generally, laws govern the creation of foundations and nonprofit organizations, and they spell out the rules under which these organizations may operate. Laws set up special tax exemptions for philanthropic and nonprofit organizations, and they frequently permit tax concessions for individual and corporate donations of money and property to qualifying non-governmental organizations. In this sense, philanthropy is not an invention of the state but ought to be viewed today as an artifact of the state; we can be certain that philanthropy would not have the form it currently does in the absence of the various laws that structure it and tax incentives that encourage it. This paper specifies and assesses three possible justifications for the existence of tax incentives for charitable giving, identifies a distinctive role for philanthropy in democracies, and argues for a fundamental redesign of the current legal framework governing philanthropy.

In the era of welfare reform since the mid-1990s, social policy has become increasingly intertwined with developments in church-state law that seem to encourage more cooperation between government programs and faith-based organizations. George W. Bush's faith-based initiative—his signature domestic policy initiative—was an important effort to advance this trend in a structural way, but the Obama administration, despite initial signals of support, has reverted to a liberal-secularist approach that is not only constitutionally obsolete, but politically damaging for the future of the social safety net.

Federal and state tax policies in the United States offer substantial incentives to donate to charity. The federal income tax and most state income taxes give taxpayers the choice between an itemized deduction for expenditures such as charitable donations, mortgage interest and state and local taxes, or a standard deduction, which at the federal level amounts to $12,200 for married taxpayers filing joint returns and $6,100 for single taxpayers in 2013.


In the international sphere, one aspect of giving is the conferring of aid. Aid entails a voluntary transfer of resources from the donor to the recipient and, by and large, has two objectives. Aid may be directed toward assisting long-term social and economic transformations of the recipients during a crisis generated by natural disasters, political violence, social strife, or pandemics. The flow of aid may be motivated by altruism, philanthropy and humane concerns, aid may also serve a strategic purpose for the donors.

According to the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of OECD, US $2.2 trillion dollars have been provided in various forms to developing countries since 1950. This paper serves to highlight that while the topic of aid has been a highly controversial one in both donor as well as recipient countries, there has been little long-term evaluation of the impacts of aid and its effectiveness in contributing to the capacities of countries to improve their incomes and human development over time. This paper begins by breaking down aid flows since 1960, describing the magnitude and composition of those flows, before posing a set of philosophical questions regarding aid. These questions highlight the controversial nature of aid architecture by inquiring about the level of leverage aid has on policy decisions, the extent to which aid should rely on local versus global comparative knowledge, and if aid should be conditioned on the fulfillment of prior conditions. The paper also explores the institutions, mechanisms and impacts of aid, concluding by asserting that negative evaluations of the impact of aid in developing countries do not match the facts. Impact assessment is complicated and there have not been enough long-term evaluations conducted to be able to definitively argue that "aid is dead."

In the past decades, the provision of vital assistance to "strangers" caught up in disasters has significantly expanded in scope and in scale. But to what extent does the aid provided to persons whose lives have been endangered and upended by war, natural catastrophes or other major crises meet their critical needs and aspirations? While the ideal of universal needs-based humanitarian aid remains elusive, efforts to improve the quality and standards of assistance and to increase "downward accountability" towards affected persons by involving them more effectively in the management of the response are underway. Yet humanitarian aid's "externality," the large power asymmetry between providers and recipients and enforcement deficits all set inherent limits to what these ‘self-improvement’ processes can achieve. Ultimately, despite its shortcomings, humanitarian aid's most significant limitation from the point of view of affected persons is when it is either absent or terribly insufficient, in part because access and acceptance are especially difficult to negotiate in politically charged crises.

Since their first appearance in the United States a century ago, large private foundations have been seen as a threat to democracy and civil society: they apply wealth to solve social problems according to their own values with minimal democratic control and almost no public accountability. In our age of immense concentrations of wealth, insufficient public resources, dominant market ideology, and unlimited private financing of political campaigns, "big philanthropy" is—more than ever—an instrument of plutocracy, of power derived from wealth. For a dozen years, some of the largest private foundations have been co-opting democratic control of public education in the United States to the detriment of both education and democracy.


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