Forbes has an interesting article uses a "reprint of a New York Times article from Jan. 1, 1911--one century ago--on the then-current state of American philanthropy." And what is discovered is that philanthropy, even with the advent of world-changing technology--is much the same.
The most apparent difference between philanthropy in 1910 and 2010 is that a century ago, there was no charitable tax deduction. In fact, the Times reporter commends the most generous philanthropists of the day for being motivated not by "taxation or governmental regulation" but rather by "a desire to relieve and uplift the condition of those less fortunate than themselves." In today's heated debate over the future of the charitable tax deduction, we often forget that the great tradition of American philanthropy began long before the Revenue Act of 1917 made it possible for taxpayers to deduct charitable contributions from their federal income taxes.
Another difference between then and now is that whereas the Times reporter heaps effusive praise on America's wealthy, the media today are apt to portray a more discerning view of high-net-worth philanthropy. Rather than question the motivations behind philanthropists' gifts, the Times reporter takes for granted the altruistic spirit in which these gifts were made. And not once does he question what kind of impact these gifts might have on society.
However, one need only look at the controversy that Bill Gates and Warren Buffet have stirred with their Giving Pledge or the skepticism displayed in response to Mark Zuckerberg's $100 million gift to Newark public schools to see the critical eye with which we view present-day philanthropy.
[Image by Christopher Ness]