The Greater Good How Philanthropy Drives the American Economy and Can Save Capitalism

Claire Gaudiani

Holt Paperbacks



Trade Paperback

304 Pages



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For over a century, the United States has stood as a beacon of prosperity, innovation, generosity, and opportunity, proof that big business and big dreams can flourish side by side. But, at the turn of the twenty-first century, America faces stagnant growth, industry implosions, job displacement, an ever-widening income gap, oppressive debts, low civic involvement, and insular gated communities. What did we do right for so long, and what can we do to get back on course?

In The Greater Good, Claire Gaudiani, one of the nation's leading voices for community development, focuses our attention squarely on the money trail of the American dream. It's not that Americans have been generous because we're rich, she argues; we're rich because we have been generous. Philanthropists invest in people, property, and ideas long before businesses or the government come into the picture, and they play a crucial role in sustaining the fragile balance between capitalism and democracy.

In this provocative and engaging book, Gaudiani measures the visible and invisible impact of philanthropy in America, and shows how it has:
—fostered a highly educated workforce for the service and information sectors,
—created the bulk of opportunities for poor families to gain income and participate in the economy,
—built stable, clean housing and thriving business and employment districts,
—and launched major, risky research efforts that led to the birth of the aviation, pharmaceutical, and financial analysis industries—all fields where America leads the world.

Gaudiani also shows how early donors to such initiatives as scholarship funds, prison reform, museums, and medical studies started economic and social ripple effects by infusing capital in the very areas economists associate with accelerating economic growth: human, physical, and intellectual capital. A new commitment to entrepreneurial philanthropy, she argues, can play a similar role in the years to come if Americans are savvy enough to spur cutting-edge technologies and asset-building for the poor—not through loans or tax breaks, but through gifts.

The Greater Good is a passionate, pragmatic, and, finally, optimistic manifesto for revitalizing the promise of the American economy.


Praise for The Greater Good

"Masterly on the way philanthropy works."—The New York Observer

"A convincing that American generosity is not just a product of the nation's wealth but also contributes significantly to building it."—The Weekly Standard

"Having devoted many fruitful years of her adult life to higher education, a field in which she demonstrated extraordinary passion and sensibility, Claire Gaudiani is now, in this remarkable volume, teaching the multifaceted values of philanthropy and its benefits to both givers and receivers."—Elie Wiesel

"Gaudiani provides a thoughtful analysis of the history of philanthropy in America, its effects on society, and why Americans are uniquely generous. As she examines the directions in which philanthropy must advance in the years ahead, she offers some stark alternatives that will demand the attention of our policymakers. Insightful."—Edwin J. Feulner, president, The Heritage Foundation

"The Greater Good is essential reading for citizens, philanthropists, and corporate and government leaders. Gaudiani shows clearly how generosity is crucial in today's economy."—Leonard A. Lauder, chairman, The Estée Lauder Companies

"Those two classic rivals, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, were right to agree that the 'pursuit of happiness' is America's key value. To this end, profit for profit's sake may well be less important to America than profit for philanthropy's sake. Gaudiani authoritatively and perceptively shows us why and how."—Henry Luce III

"At a moment when too many rich Americans are using their wealth and power to tilt the playing field ever more in their own direction, this book reminds us that in other eras wealth and power have been used in other ways. One hopes it will prove not just a useful and fascinating history, but a real call to present-day responsibility."—Bill McKibben, author of Enough

"[Gaudiani] builds her case carefully, pointing to the tremendous positive impact American philanthropy has had on human, physical, and intellectual capital, from the GI Bill and Sears Roebuck-founder Julius Rosenwald's construction of Chicago's famed Museum of Science and Industry to the formation of such nonprofits as MADD and Environmental Defense. To continue those kinds of contributions, she contends, demands eight different solutions, including making meaningful partnerships, plans that grow giving, more home ownership for low- and lower-middle-income citizens, and community centers, among others. [This book] is, indeed, an intelligent and well-reasoned argument designed to promote the greater good. And, on paper at least, it works."—Booklist

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Claire Gaudiani

  • Claire Gaudiani, now a senior research scholar at Yale Law School, was president of Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut, from 1988 until 2001. She also served as volunteer president of the New London Development Corporation, which spearheaded the city's revitalization efforts.