Nicholas Kristof claims that liberals are stingy, citing research showing that conservatives donate more to charities than liberals. But these findings do not surprise me at all. I am a liberal and favor broad government investment in public services (and not just for the needy, but for all of society). And I rarely contribute to charities. Why? Because the vast majority of charities are organized around narrow, single-issue agendas. By giving money to charities we encourage a piecemeal approach to solving problems that are better solved through an integrated approach. We also risk allocating funds on the basis of what issues arouse the most emotion rather than what projects could do the most good. Furthermore, charities are rarely transparent and tend to be run by people with specific ideological goals. I believe it is far better to take the money that would otherwise be spent on charity and give it to the government as taxes, and then to demand transparency and accountability from our elected officials to ensure that those taxes are being used in a way that realizes the kind of society we collectively envision. Social entrepreneurship is another non-charity option that may be more palatable to those who still believe the market knows best. I believe both approaches are probably needed, and both are preferable to the charity system which has failed to provide a social safety net despite conservative enthusiasm.
Via the Powerhouse Museum blog comes the bad news that George Oates has been laid off from Flickr (along with a lot of other people laid off from Yahoo this week). George was the person in charge of Flickr’s much-publicized collaboration with the Library of Congress. That’s bad news for the projects George has been spearheading, but I doubt she will have any problem finding a new position, even in these tough economic times.
What this does spotlight, though, is what I feel has been some magical thinking on the part of the library and museum community regarding collaboration with corporate entities. Blinded by the wealth these companies seem to command, non-profit institutions forget that corporate dominance can be fleeting. In the short term, libraries and museums should definitely be experimenting with publicizing themselves through commercial services. But believing that commercial services like Flickr, or even Google Books, represent long-term solutions to fulfilling library and museum missions is a mistake. In the worst case, it may lead to the non-profit institutions being marginalized without providing any real long-term replacement.
Google may believe it will be around for 300 years. But in a year when we’ve seen some of the best-known and longest-surviving corporations disappear in a matter of days, we should treat such boasts as the ranting of a corporate Ozymandias.