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The Giving Boom

Think Tank Specials — The Giving Boom: How the New Philantropy Will Change America

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Recent volatility aside, America’s economic boom has made many people extraordinarily wealthy. What will they do with that wealth? By some estimates, Americans will give away about $34 trillion to charity over the next half-century.

“The Giving Boom,” a one-hour documentary premiering Thursday, July 12, at 10 PM (ET) on PBS (check local listings), explores how the wealth created by America’s recent economic prosperity could transform philanthropy. Ben Wattenberg, moderator of the weekly public television series Think Tank with Ben Wattenberg, hosts the special. Andrew Walworth, executive producer of Think Tank and such critically acclaimed documentaries as “The First Measured Century,” “The Best of Omnibus” and “The Stockholder Society,” is executive producer.

“This documentary demonstrates not only the sheer amount of money that will be given away in the near future, but also the change in the way people manage their philanthropic giving and its effectiveness,” said Ben Wattenberg.

“The Giving Boom” takes a look back at the history of American philanthropy, beginning with Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller, and considers whether their “gilded age” might hold any lessons for our own. The program also examines how philanthropy can shape the social and political agenda and how individuals and foundations are starting to take a much more active role in where and how their money is spent.

For example, with assets valued at $21.8 billion, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has already given away more money than Carnegie and Rockefeller combined. “The Giving Boom” examines the Gates Foundation's approach and asks what happens when a foundation becomes large enough to outspend the federal government's entire global health budget.

“Venture Philanthropy” applies business concepts to non-profits allowing them to better plan and be more efficient with the money received. In “The Giving Boom,” Wattenberg talks with the founders of Social Venture Partners (SVP) in Seattle, Washington, which follows this model. SVP not only donates money, but also business expertise and volunteer time. The foundation funds mostly $25,000 to $1 million projects, ideally long-term community programs in Seattle.

“The Giving Boom” also poses the question: Can private charity circumvent politics? The issue of school vouchers is a controversial one, and political opposition has thwarted efforts to experiment with the idea. Ted Forstmann and John Walton saw a way around the gridlock and used their own money to offer scholarships to low-income families who want to send their children to private school. Their approach worked, but Forstmann came to learn that philanthropy, too, has its limits.

Michael Milken may be best known as the convicted “junk bond king,” but his work in philanthropy dates back to long before he became notorious. Since the 1970’s, his foundation has given away more than $700 million to education and medical research initiatives. “The Giving Boom” interviews Milken and shows how his affliction with cancer prompted him to focus his philanthropic work on finding a cure for prostate cancer. Shortly after he was diagnosed, Milken founded CaP CURE, an organization that funds prostate cancer research. Milken’s efforts have also helped raise the public profile of the disease. Milken also reveals that in 1993, he was given 12 to 18 months to live.

Among the interviewees for “The Giving Boom” are Ted Forstmann, Chairman of the Children’s Scholarship Fund; Michael Milken; Paul Brainerd, founder of Social Venture Partners; Paul Schervish of the Social Welfare Research Institute at Boston College; Dinesh D’Souza, author of “The Virtue of Prosperity”; Richard Riordan, the outgoing mayor of Los Angeles; Pablo Eisenberg of the Georgetown Public Policy Institute; Ron Chernow, author of “Titan,” a biography of John D. Rockefeller; and Harold Livesay, a biographer of Andrew Carnegie.

Ben Wattenberg is the co-author of The First Measured Century, The Real Majority and This U.S.A.; and the author of The Good News is the Bad News is Wrong, The Real America, The Birth Dearth and Values Matter Most. His PBS television specials include The First Measured Century, The First Universal Nation, Values Matter Most, The Grandchild Gap and The Stockholder Society. Wattenberg's nationally syndicated newspaper column appears in 200 newspapers. He is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

The program is a production of BJW Inc. in association with New River Media of Washington, D.C. Funding for “The Giving Boom: How the New Philanthropy Will Change America” was provided by Pfizer Inc.; T. Rowe Price; The Smith Richardson Foundation; The Bernard & Irene Schwartz Foundation; The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation; The John M. Olin Foundation; and PBS.

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