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Philanthropic Capitalist Foundations and Corporate Environmentalism

Le Partage

January 2019

By Nicolas Casaux

 

 

Translation from French to English via DeepL Translator

 

The two examples below of funding from Jane Goodall’s NGO (Jane Goodall Institute) and 350 (.org) are quite representative of how mainstream ecology works. The leading figures and organizations in the field of ecology, those that are often reported in the media, are rarely, if ever, revolutionary. Their discourse is often limited to various platitudes, encouraging all kinds of false solutions and stating relatively hollow proposals, or worse (ending poverty/developing green energy and technology/developing organic/go to work by bike/developing sustainable development/vote for the good guys/etc.). And their actions are palliative (which can, however, in some cases, be really important).

Jane Goodall’s NGO funding

*

NGO 350.org funding

The same reasons that push the mass media (which, on the whole, belong to[1] – and broadly convey the ideology of – the same class of individuals found behind philanthrocapitalist foundations) to promote the ecologism of large NGOs and some subsidized personalities (by the private or public), push private philanthrocapitalist foundations and/or public organizations to finance these NGOs and individuals: they are harmless for today’s capitalist industrial society.

Thus the NGO 350.org was created and continues to be financed by the Rockefellers and many other ultra-rich capitalists; thus the Jane Goodall Foundation is financed by various philanthrocapitalist foundations and even directly by a few corporations, including an airline company; and thus WWF, which is financed by and collaborates with various multinationals (Coca-Cola, HSBC, etc.).) and foundations; and thus Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s , “founded with the support of three banks […] : BNP Paribas, the Swiss bank Lombard Odier, and Cortal Consors, BNP’s subsidiary specialising in online trading for individuals”, which collaborates with Total[2] and is “financed in particular by donations from companies such as Casino, Suez or BNP[3]”; thus Cyril Dion’s film Demain was subsidised by AFD and co-produced with France Télévisions, as well as his documentary film Après-Demain ; etc.

Ultimately, these heavily subsidized, funded and mediated NGOs and personalities are a kind of ecological guarantor of capitalist industrial society. They make it possible to channel and control popular concerns about the fate of the natural world. Their ecologism is to ecology what modern electoral systems are to democracy. A fraud. About these general public ecologists, Jaime Semprun’s Encyclopedia of Nuisances wrote in its Address to all those who do not want to manage nuisances but remove them, in June 1990, that they:

“are in the field of the fight against nuisances what trade unionists were in the field of workers’ struggles: intermediaries interested in preserving the contradictions for which they regulate, negotiators dedicated to bargaining (the revision of standards and harmfulness rates replacing the percentages of wage increases), advocates of the quantitative as economic calculation extends to new fields (air, water, human embryos or synthetic sociability); in short, new brokers of an economic subjection whose price must now include the cost of a “quality environment”. We are already seeing the establishment, co-managed by “green” experts, of a redistribution of the territory between sacrificed and protected areas, a spatial division that will regulate hierarchical access to nature goods. As for radioactivity, there will be something for everyone.

 

To say that the ecologists’ practice is reformist would still do it too much credit, because it is directly and deliberately in line with the logic of capitalist domination, which unceasingly extends, by its very destruction, the field of its exercise. In this cyclical production of evils and their aggravating remedies, ecologism will have been only the reserve army of an era of bureaucratization, where “rationality” is always defined far from the individuals concerned and any realistic knowledge, with the renewed disasters that this implies. […]

 

It is therefore not a kind of extremist purism, let alone “politics of the worst”, that invites us to stand out violently from all the ecological planners of the economy: it is simply the realism about the necessary future of all this. The consequent development of the fight against nuisances requires clarifying, through as many exemplary denunciations as necessary, the opposition between ecolocrats – those who derive power from the ecological crisis – and those who do not have interests distinct from all dispossessed individuals, nor from the movement that can enable them to eliminate nuisances through the “rational dismantling of all commercial production”. If those who want to suppress nuisances are necessarily on the same ground as those who want to manage them, they must be present as enemies, otherwise they will be reduced to figuring in the spotlight of the directors of spatial planning. They can only really occupy this ground, i.e. find the means to transform it, by asserting without concession the social criticism of nuisances and their managers, installed or postulated. »

Their criticism of nuisance management, which is also a criticism of the management of popular concerns and disputes, is in line with the denunciation of the NGOization of resistance formulated, among others, by Arundhati Roy:

The NGO-ization of Resistance, Arundhati Roy, August 16, 2004

Gil Scott-Heron had sung it, the revolution will not be televised, and the collective INCITE! rightly adds that it will not be subsidized either.

 

End Notes:

  1. https://www.bastamag.net/Le-pouvoir-d-influence-delirant-des-dix-milliardaires-qui-possedent-la-presse ?
  2. https://www.zonebourse.com/TOTAL-4717/actualite/Total-accord-avec-la-Fondation-GoodPlanet-25542889/?iCStream=1 ?
  3. https://www.lemonde.fr/les-decodeurs/article/2015/09/16/l-empire-yann-arthus-bertrand-en-5-chiffres_4759524_4355770.html ?

 

[Nicolas Casaux is a member of the international organization Deep Green Resistance.]

Toxic Philanthropy – The Spirit of Giving While Taking

Institute for New Economic Thinking

December 10, 2018


America’s new “philanthrocapitalists” are enabling social problems rather than solving them

 

Anew breed of wealthy do-gooders armed with apps and PowerPoints claim they want to change the world. But with their market-oriented values and often-shortsighted prescriptions, are really they going to change it for the better?

Or change it at all?

Anand Giridharadas, who has traveled first-class in the rarefied realm of 21st-century “philanthrocapitalists,” harbors serious doubts. In his acclaimed book, “Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World,” the business reporter and former McKinsey consultant exposes the willful blindness of bright-eyed social entrepreneurs and TED-talking executives who, having drunk their own late-stage capitalist Kool-Aid, are now ready to serve us all. Compliments of the house.

Doing Good, Masking Bad

British novelist Anthony Trollope once observed, “I have sometimes thought that there is no being so venomous, so bloodthirsty as a professed philanthropist.”

Legendary short seller Jim Chanos, who teaches business students to spot fraud, understands why: when he scrutinizes a company for signs of shady activity, one of the things he looks for is an uptick in philanthropy— a strategy business ethics professor Marianne Jennings has named as one of the “seven signs of ethical collapse” in organizations. Chanos refers to the ruse as “doing good to mask doing bad.”

Such cynical public relations gambits are familiar enough to New Yorkers using Citi Bike, the public-private bike share system funded by Citigroup, whose misdeeds helped spark the global financial crisis of 2007-8. Or visitors to the Sackler Gallery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, named for the family whose members own Purdue, the pharmaceutical company that fueled America’s opioid crisis through deceptive marketing of the addictive painkiller OxyContin.

But another sort of deep-pocketed philanthropist is harder to pin down. The harm she causes seems less direct; her motives more lofty. This type is fond of touting “win-win” solutions to social problems and tossing out terms like “impactful” and “scalable” and “paradigm-shifting” —the kind of lingo fed to business school students in lieu of critical thinking. Members of this group nevertheless refer to themselves as “thought leaders.”

These would-be benefactors of humanity tend to like former president Bill Clinton, whose Clinton Global Initiative became the ultimate road show for eager converts to what Giridharadas calls the faith of “win-winnerism,” i.e. “I’m doing great in this racket, and so can you.” Inhabiting Silicon Valley start-ups, venture capital firms, think tanks, and consulting companies in large metropolitan areas, philanthrocapitalists speak reverently of global poverty, but rarely touch down in places like Appalachia or rural Mississippi.

They are people like John Mackey, the chief executive of Whole Foods Market, whose book “Conscious Capitalism” is the bible for those aspiring to the win-win faith. In his formulation, CEOs are not simply the heads of companies, but transcendent beings that find “great joy and beauty in their work, and in the opportunity to serve, lead, and help shape a better future.” Mackey’s philosophy is one in which the beneficiaries of commerce should dedicate themselves to social improvement because they are obviously the best equipped to do the job. The public is meant to humbly follow.

This last bit, as Giridharadas shrewdly points out, may be far more radical than the old trickle-down philosophy of yesterday’s winners, who lobbied the government to get out of their way so that the bounteous by-products of their cutthroat activities could descend unimpeded to the poor. The new winners want something even more audacious: to replace the role of government as guardian of the common good.

Giridharadas presents searching conversations with well-educated, often well-meaning people floating above and apart from the lives of ordinary Americans, wishing to ease their consciences but failing both to clearly see the problems of society and to notice, for more than a nagging moment, the ways in which their own lives are financed by the fruits of injustice. They end up embracing a warm-and-fuzzy vision of changing the world that leaves brutal underlying structures securely in place.

The author has said what few who have traveled in this world have said plainly, lest their passport be revoked: the efforts of philanthrocapitalists are largely disruptive, rather than beneficial, to public life.

You can see it in the kind of ideas they embrace. Lecture slots at Davos don’t get doled out for discussing the need to expand popular, time-tested programs like Social Security and Medicare that are proven to reduce poverty and economic inequality. Such sensible fare is not nearly “innovative” or exotic enough—and besides, it might require the wealthy to pay additional taxes. Better are schemes like universal basic income that tend to favor elite interests (such as continuing to pay workers inadequate wages) or creating technological solutions like the one offered in the book by a young win-winnerist: an app that charges workers to manage the unpredictable cash flow caused by erratic work schedules.

And what of campaigning to outlaw the exploitative business practice that causes the problem in the first place? Notsomuch.

Talking about victims plays well on the philanthrocapitalist circuit, but pointing out perpetrators is largely forbidden. You can wow the crowd by peddling for-profit schemes to help the poor, but you won’t get the same applause by calling to jail criminal executives. Yet, as Giridharadas makes clear, even the fanciest app will not erase the feeling among ordinary people that the system has been captured by a small group of the rich and powerful—a feeling that drives them away in disgust from establishment politics and makes them very angry indeed.

What the philanthrocapitalist has a hard time admitting is that meaningful structural change involves a lot more than an app and a PowerPoint. It means taking on financialized corporations that engage in stock market manipulation to enrich shareholders rather than investing in workers and products that are actually useful to human beings. It requires fixing a regressive tax system in which the wealthy pay less on their investments than working people pay on their earned income. It means empowering workers and taking on the coercive hierarchies of wealth and power that are locking into place a dual economy where the affluent become so removed from the struggles of the majority that they hardly speak the same language.

Antidemocratic and unaccountable, the new philanthropists emerge in Giridharadas’s cautionary book less as the solvers of social problems than the deluded enablers. The emperor may stand there in his organic underpants waving a pie chart, but in the court of public opinion, it is increasingly obvious that he’s not in the least interested in dismantling his own palace.

 

[Lynn Parramore is Senior Research Analyst at the Institute for New Economic Thinking. A cultural theorist who studies the intersection of culture and economics, she is Contributing Editor at AlterNet, where she received the Bill Moyers/Schumann Foundation fellowship in journalism for 2012. She is also a frequent contributor to Reuters, Al Jazeera, Salon, Huffington Post, and other outlets. Her first book of cultural history, Reading the Sphinx (Palgrave Macmillan) was named a “Notable Scholarly Book for 2008” by the Chronicle of Higher Education. A web entrepreneur, Parramore is co-founder of the Next New Deal (formerly New Deal 2.0) blog of the Roosevelt Institute, where she served as media fellow from 2009-2011, and she is also co-founder of Recessionwire.com, and founding editor of IgoUgo.com. Full bio]

The Work of Celebrity in the Age of Neoliberal Environmental Governance

Blinded by the Stars? Celebrity, Fantasy, and Desire in Neoliberal Environmental Governance

Paper Prepared for Symposium “Capitalism, Democracy, and Celebrity Advocacy,”
University of Manchester, UK, 19-20 June 2012

By Robert Fletcher

 

“Queen Rania of Jordan, Naomi Campbell, Malala Yousafzai, Jennifer Lopez, Bill Gates and more get behind the United Nations’ Global Goals.” [Source]

 

Abstract

The growing prominence of celebrities within the global environmental movement—and their power to shape and advance this movement’s aims—has been a burgeoning focus of recent research. Thus far, such analysis has viewed the phenomenon primarily through a political economy lens, contending that celebrity is harnessed to further the agenda of a mainstream environmental movement that has become increasingly conjoined with neoliberal capitalism, as
expressed in the mounting enthusiasm to address ecological decline through corporate partnership and incentive-based market mechanisms. This presentation draws on psychoanalytic research to offer the complementary suggestion that celebrity also functions as a form of transference helping to sustain the fantasy implicit in this neoliberal vision “that capitalist markets are the answer to their own ecological contradictions” (Büscher 2012:12). Through transference, the charismatic authority conferred to larger-than-life celebrities helps to conceal the gaps between Real and Symbolic in this vision and thus obfuscates contradictions inherent in the execution of neoliberal environmental strategies. From this perspective, cynical suspicion concerning celebrities’ authenticity may paradoxically enhance their authority, and thus this analysis helps to explain counterintuitive findings that widespread ambivalence towards celebrities does little to diminish their power to shape public sentiment.

Excerpt:

The Work of Celebrity in the Age of Neoliberal Environmental Governance Researchers have observed that the growing prominence of celebrity resonates with and supports a general process of neoliberalization in various ways. First, in its close association with the rise of philanthrocapitalism (Bishop and Green 2008), celebrity helps to legitimate a paradigmatically neoliberal approach to governance emphasizing businesses’ capacity to self-regulate in the absence of substantial state oversight via so-called “corporate social responsibility” strategies (Holmes 2012; Kapoor 2012). Celebrities also help to sell (often literally through their corporate endorsement contracts) the idea intrinsic to this neoliberal approach that individuals can contribute to social causes primarily through “ethical” consumption of ostensibly socially and environmentally sustainable commodities rather than direct political engagement (Carrier 2010). Further, celebrities contribute to legitimating the spectacular rise of private philanthropy efforts on the part of wealthy individuals (see Kapoor 2012), a movement that both promotes neoliberalism in championing its “private visions of the public good” (Raddon, 2008: 38) and which has itself been increasingly neoliberalized over the past decade in seeking to restructure itself on the model of the market in the interest of enhanced “efficiency” (Holmes 2012).

Meanwhile, a rapidly growing body of literature has documented the myriad ways is which environmental policy and practices around the world have become increasingly neoliberalized over the past several decades. To date, most of this literature has addressed its subject matter from a predominantly Marxist perspective, viewing neoliberalism as a capitalist process and hence analyzing the ways in which environmental initiatives have become implicated in processes of commodification and financialization associated with the strategy of ‘accumulation by dispossession” (Harvey 2005) by means of which neoliberal policies serve to amass wealth in the hands of what Sklair (2001) calls the “transnational capitalist class” (see e.g., Heynen et al. 2007; Brockington et al. 2008; Castree 2008; Brockington and Duffy 2010; Büscher et al. 2012; cf. Oels 2005; Fletcher 2010b).

March 3, 2015: “People, Planet, Profit: The Rise of Triple-Bottom-Line Businesses – Worldwatch Institute’s State of the World 2014 explores the role of ethical capitalism in the quest for sustainable economies.”

From this perspective, neoliberal theory functions predominantly as an ideological smokescreen, concealing the myriad ways in which unsavory aspects of this process (e.g., large-scale displacement of resource-dependent peoples in favor of corporate interests, the widespread failure of market-based environmental mechanisms to achieve intended aims) via an obfuscating rhetoric quick to proclaim “win-win” outcomes simultaneously sustaining the “triple bottom line” of “people, planet, and profits.”

In this analysis, celebrity endorsement of environmental causes serves to support this obfuscation, distracting audiences from such underlying problems and helping to legitimate by association the big environmental nongovernmental organizations (BINGOs) that increasingly function like corporations both in their courtship of private sector resources and in their implementation of neoliberal market-based projects and programs (see Brockington 2008, 2009; Sullivan 2011). In this sense, celebrity endorsement is understood as part of the process through which nonhuman nature is transformed into Spectacle via aestheticized, hyperreal imagery (Brockington 2009; Igoe 2010; Igoe et al. 2010) within a neoliberal era in which capitalism seeks to internalize natural resources as an integral component of production—what O’Connor (1994) calls capitalism’s “ecological phase”—rather than externalizing them in order to maximize short term profit, the dominant strategy prior.

The psychoanalytic-inspired analysis presented above offers an alternative, yet complementary reading of this trend. Rather than viewing it as the ideological obfuscation of an underlying economic process of capital accumulation, in this lens neoliberal theory could be understood as a fantasy helping to conceal the gap between the actual function and effects of neoliberal policies and their Symbolic representation vis-à-vis the pervasive win-win rhetoric previously described (see Fletcher under review). Hence, Dean describes neoliberalism as championing a “fantasy of free trade” that covers over persistent market failure, structural inequalities, the violence of privatization, and the redistribution of wealth to the “have mores.” Free trade sustains at the level of fantasy what it seeks to avoid at the level of reality—namely actually free trade among equal players, that is equal participants with equal opportunities to establish the rules of the game, access information, distribution, and financial networks, etc. (2008:55).

With respect to environmental governance, the effect of this is to sustain “the paradoxical idea that capitalist markets are the answer to their own ecological contradictions” (Büscher 2012:12). In service to this fantasy, celebrity promotion helps to mobilize affect and desire in support of environmental causes, focusing attention on splashy, sensation-filled spectacle supporting the win-win narrative (Brockington 2009) and thereby conjuring an aura of environmentalism “as exciting, exotic, erotic, and glamorous—as ‘sexy’” (Sullivan 2011:335)

As Dean (2008) points out, it is of course desire that sustains neoliberalism’s free trade fantasy: desire on the part of neoliberal advocates to see the theory fuction as envisioned; and desire on the part of those excluded from neoliberalism’s benefits to finally receive the material rewards perennially dangled in front of them. De vries (2007) identifies this latter fuction of desire in international development policy, wherein the masses excluded from the fruits of development nevertheless sustain faith in development’s potential due to their desire to receive the benefits (i.e., projects, public works, etc.) they have long been promised by planners. In this dynamic, the gap between promise and fulfillment of neoliberal fantasies is itself concealed through further fantasies assuring satisfaction at some future juncture, once the proper adjustments have been made to finally “get the market right.” With respect to celebrity, observing the glamorous, larger-than-life personas, lifestyles, and seemingly heroic acts of altruistic charity performed by environmental celebrities offers a similar jouissance, providing just enough pleasure to keep viewers hooked yet constantly deferring an implied fulfillment, in part through ostentatious revelation of the artificiality of these aestheticized representations themselves.

 

Download the paper:

Fletcher Blinded by the Stars Celebrity Fantasy and Desire in Neoliberal Environmental Governance

 

 

[Robert Fletcher is an environmental anthropologist with research interests in conservation, development, ecotourism, globalization, climate change, social and resistance movements, and non-state forms of governance. He uses a political ecology approach to explore how culturally-specific understandings of human-nonhuman relations and political economic structures intersect to inform patterns of natural resource use and conflict. Most of his research has been conducted in Latin America (particularly Costa Rica and Chile) but he has begun to work in East Africa as well.”]

Wall Street Taking Over Nonprofit Sector

Shadow Proof

January 4, 2016

by Daniel Wright

 

“What’s new is the increased concentration of directors drawn from one narrow sector of business and industry: finance.”— Study: “The Wall Street Takeover of Nonprofit Boards”, Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) 

 

“Practices such as data-driven decision-making, an emphasis on metrics, prioritizing impact and competition, managing with three- to five-year horizons and plans, and advocating executive-style leadership and compensation have all become an essential part of the nonprofit lexicon…”— Study: “The Wall Street Takeover of Nonprofit Boards”, Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) 

 

mckibben-divest-9

 

While there has traditionally been a close relationship between Wall Street donors and nonprofit organizations like charities and universities, a new study from the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) reveals a growing Wall Street takeover of nonprofit boards of directors.

Using data from what are referred to in the study as major private research universities, elite small liberal arts colleges, and prominent New York City cultural and health institutions, SSIR calculates that “[T]he percentage of people from finance on the boards virtually doubled at all three types of nonprofits between 1989 and 2014.”

feature_chart_nonprofit_boards_membership

SSIR posits that nonprofits favor Wall Street partly because “nonprofit organizations are simply following the money.” Wall Street has grown increasingly rich in the past decades and fundraising is a vital aspect of running a nonprofit organization. Hedge fund managers’ compensation regularly outstrips other corporate executives, making them prime fundraising targets.

But the banksters are not content to just donate to the nonprofit organizations, financial service industry executives are taking positions of influence and control. As one might expect, the vision Wall Street players have of and for the world often clashes with the preexisting culture within those organizations. The most pronounced conflict, according to SSIR, is the effort to make nonprofits more like businesses:

As financiers come to dominate the boards of leading nonprofits, it is not surprising that their approaches and priorities have made their way, very explicitly and fundamentally, into the governance of the nonprofit sector … Nonprofit leaders regularly hear about these finance practices from board members and donors whose native habitat is the financial services world. Moreover, nonprofit managers have come to accept them as reasonable principles upon which donors base their giving …

 

Numerous critics have written thoughtfully about the ways in which market-based thinking and approaches applied to the nonprofit sector provide false promise, with the potential to dilute charitable values, undermine long-term mission focus, incentivize small, incremental goals, and threaten shared governance and other forms of participatory problem-solving.

In other words, Wall Street is helping bring dubious management practices to the sector that was setup, in part, to deal with the failures of an economic system run by said dubious management practices. What could go wrong?

It is apparently lost on many donors to the nonprofit sector that if nonprofit work could have been achieved through a business approach it would already have been. For Wall Street, the problem with the nonprofit sector appears to be that it’s nonprofit.

 

[Daniel Wright is a longtime blogger and currently writes for Shadowproof. He lives in New Jersey, by choice.]