Recently, the Ford Foundation announced plans to provide $1 billion in funding toward social justice programs, an extension of the $1 billion it handed out in 2015. The resulting press coverage, including a profile of its president on “60 Minutes,” was effusive.
Ford is not alone in its philanthropic wokeism. Many other large foundations have followed suit. The Mellon Foundation, one of the largest funders of the arts and humanities, is now prioritizing social justice in all its grant-making. The Rockefeller Foundation too is committing $1 billion over the next three years to “catalyze a more inclusive, green recovery from COVID.”
While well-intentioned, there has been almost no scrutiny of grant-making that supports social justice activism. Have the billions of dollars spent on it resulted in greater equity and quality of life for those it purports to help?
To be clear, a diverse range of philanthropies are supporting tremendous organizations with noble causes. America’s ideals allow everyone from the average citizen to the wealthiest foundation to fund what they choose. And certainly, charity should continue to help the most vulnerable in society.
The concern, though, is philanthropy that singularly looks at grant-making through a lens that judges people by their gender and ethnicity both sets America back and undermines the principles of free enterprise that have improved far more lives than any government or social justice program.
Take, for instance, grant-making efforts that increase regulatory burdens on job creators. Or the funding of advocacy groups associated with last summer’s civil unrest, severely damaging small businesses in underserved communities. Or grant-making that sends the dispiriting message that not everyone is capable of being hired on their own merit.
Further, such efforts are antithetical to the free market beliefs of these foundations’ namesakes, who are the reason they exist in the first place. Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller, and Andrew Mellon all embraced the free market principles that made it possible to invent, produce, fuel, and finance the transportation industry. That, in turn, enabled millions of Americans to be more upwardly mobile and generated limitless possibilities in innovation.
In his letter resigning from the Ford Foundation board in 1977, Henry Ford’s grandson conveyed “respect for the potential for the foundation’s good.” He also thought it was straying too far from the free market principles that make philanthropy possible.