A ‘free gift’ can be a morally complex thing. To give £5 to a rough sleeper, without specifying how it should be spent, with or without thanks in return, is a simple act of kindness or charity. To give £50,000 towards a new rough sleepers’ hostel is an act of philanthropy, though you might be accused of vanity if the hostel names a room after you and of self-interest if the project clears rough sleepers from your neighbourhood. To give £5 million to build the whole hostel – to your own specifications, managed by people you have chosen – is an act of ‘philanthrocapitalism’. And, according to Linsey McGoey, it is an act that society should regard not with gratitude but with the deepest suspicion.
Philanthrocapitalism was the title of a 2008 book by Matthew Bishop and Michael Green, subtitled ‘How the Rich Can Save the World’. Theirs was the first full account of the current generation of billionaires who, having made more than enough money for themselves, are turning their surplus wealth and business