Linsey McGoey: Philanthrocapitalism Will Not Protect Us


How do we build a more equitable world? It is only possible through a revolutionary transformation of the current systems of economic distribution and reward that benefit the wealthiest people globally at the expense of the majority of the world’s population.

As multilateral institutions and national governments strive to rein in the pandemic, one thing is clear: Philanthro-capitalist ideology, not just philanthropic foundations and organizations, are deeply embedded into our global systems of response.

Consider the question that’s on everyone’s mind: the Covid-19 vaccine. The distribution of any COVID therapeutics is complicated by a growing mistrust of private philanthropists. This public mistrust and anti-billionaire anger needs to be taken seriously as a sign of deep anxiety over worsening economic inequality today.

Consider how research subjects and participants of global clinical trials for new pharmaceuticals and other therapeutics are distributed around the globe. Different corporate and governmental actors often canvas the world for available research participants to test the safety and efficacy of medicines that largely benefit consumers in the Global North, a practice that perpetuates different forms of neo-colonial expropriation and immiseration.

How does this type of medical exploitation relate to economic theories of ‘racialized capitalism?’ How can this type of exploitation be challenged? How can the media and scholars be exhorted and incentivized to do a better job of reporting upon this ongoing pattern of health research exploitation, in ways that could make the case for a ‘people’s vaccine’ even more compelling?

Measured critical analysis of pro-market philanthropic approaches, with a focus on big players like the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation would help address what I see as a twin-pronged challenge today: the need to develop international solutions to nation-level challenges in ways that do not neglect the impoverished communities in both ‘wealthy’ and ‘developing’ nations.

In the North as well as in the South, there is a resource drain away from the public sector towards private beneficiaries, in a way that is undermining primary healthcare systems. It is the poorest communities who continue to be on the losing end of the pro-private turn, a turn that is championed and lubricated by philanthropic disbursements. As a result, people across the world are seeing a decline in the quality of the provision of public goods, which can lead to the entrenchment of race-baiting and racialized forms of stigma and scapegoating.

It goes without saying that we should condemn misinformation and extremist perspectives. Challenging ‘philanthrocapitalist’ approaches which entrench corporate power today and point out the pattern of health drain and wealth drain is the opposite of ‘extremist’ thinking; rather, it aims to enlarge the ‘Overton window’ of possible alternatives, by highlighting that the philanthrocapitalist rationale for increased public-private partnerships in health rests on a very flimsy evidence base. What does work for public health is primary health care strengthening; pro-public patent regimes, and affordable access to medicines.

I’m excited to work with the Covid-19 Response Working Group to articulate a theory of radical philanthropy, one that celebrate different forms of solidarity and instead of imperialist and unjust ideas of charity.

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Linsey McGoey

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