Are billionaire philanthropists uniquely good for society? Not always, writes David Callahan in The Givers. The author argues that while the decision to spend massive amounts of money on causes ranging from curing disease to remaking public education may seem wholly positive, megafoundations with recognizable names can have undemocratic effects. "If you don't favor same-sex marriage or charter schools or shutting down coal plants," he writes, "you might not be too thrilled with how some billionaires have been deploying their money — subsidized, I should add, by your own tax dollars," since donations even to foundations that specifically work to shape policy are often deductible. At issue for Callahan is not so much the impulse to give but outdated government incentives to mix giving with advocacy. This amounts, he says, to the wealthiest people having a louder voice than ordinary citizens.
TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary on events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of TIME editors.