American democracy faces serious challenges, including hyper-partisanship, declining public confidence in government, and legislative paralysis. When government cannot or will not act, civil society and its philanthropic patrons offer an alternative mechanism of social change. This article documents how America’s billionaires are using their wealth, ideas, and political leverage to advance controversial policy goals, from deficit reduction, to school reform, to gun regulation.
Drawing on an original dataset of almost 200 leading philanthropists, this article finds that more than half have serious policy ambitions. Although receiving acclaim in some circles, these “policy plutocrats” often draw criticism for disregarding democratic processes, enhancing elite power, and inflicting ill-conceived experiments on disadvantaged populations. However, these donors also are subsidizing organizations that amplify the voice of unorganized issue publics and marginalized populations. Plutocrats and their activities have opened a vast research frontier for normative and empirical political science.
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PS: Political Science & Politics / Volume 49 / Issue 03 / July 2016, pp 442-448 / Copyright © American Political Science Association 2016