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Rainmaker Extraordinaire

February 2, 2019 (444 words)

Somehow I missed the March 2018 announcement that Arthur Brooks will be stepping down in June 2019 as president of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C. This think tank has no endowment, and is funded solely through private donations from wealthy donors. Which means the leader must be a prolific fund-raiser.

AEI took a big leap when they hired a college professor in January 2009 with no previous experience running a nonprofit or heading up a big development operation to be their rainmaker. But Mr. Brooks has delivered over the course of his tenure, in spades.

It helps that AEI defends the financial interest of wealthy people, and has a board composed largely of said wealthy people. So this naturally greases the skids, as they say, when any president of a think tank goes calling with hat in hand.

Mr. Brooks has explained his fund-raising prowess by telling us how charitable giving bestows deep benefits on all involved – those who give and those who receive. He came to this blazingly original insight while writing his book on charity, Who Really Cares. And he also shared his discovery in one of his pithy New York Times op-ed pieces:

“Charitable giving improves what psychologist call ‘self-efficacy,’ one’s belief that one is capable of handling a situation and bringing about a desired outcome, When people give their time and money to a cause they believe in, they become problem solvers. Problem solvers are happier than bystanders and victims of circumstance.”

But wait, there’s more…

“In this role (as fundraiser-in-chief for a high-profile libertarian think tank), I have found that the real magic of fund-raising goes even deeper than temporary happiness or extra income. It creates meaning. Donors possess two disconnected commodities: material wealth and sincere convictions. Alone, these commodities are difficult to combine. But fund-raisers facilitate an alchemy of virtue: They empower those with financial resources to convert the dross of their money into the gold of a better society.”

Arthur Brooks in undeniably a prose stylist, but at times he tends to get carried away with himself while writing. How exactly does contributing one’s spare cash to a private “research” organization committed to preserving the interests of wealthy people contribute to “a better society”?

That AEI specializes in statistical analyses demonstrating how free enterprise has lifted billions of destitute people out of poverty around the world – the standard conservative/libertarian economic refrain – hardly qualifies as a moral crusade capable of converting the dross of enormous wealth into anything other than what it is.

Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr.
February 2, 2019

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