How To Give Away a Million Dollars
Ideas from Nora Ephron, David Brooks, Jane Smiley, and others.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Slate 60, the magazine's annual listing of the 60 largest American donors to charity. As David Plotz wrote earlier this year, the idea behind the list is to fuse American generosity and competitiveness. This week, we are focusing on philanthropy to coincide with a conference of Slate 60 donors that the magazine is co-sponsoring with the Clinton School of Public Service at the University of Arkansas. To kick off the discussion, we asked writers, artists, academics, and other thoughtful people a question: If you had a million dollars to give, who would get it? Their answers are below. (Click here to read more from Slate's philanthropy series.)
Anne Applebaum, columnist, Washington Post and Slate
Given that a million dollars isn't what it used to be—given that I can't cure AIDS or end terrorism with a million dollars—I'd prefer to give my money to a smaller charity that will use the money to good effect. My charity of choice is Memorial, the Russian human rights organization. Unusually, they perform a dual role. Some of their employees are historians who are working in the archives, writing the history of Stalinism and terrorism in their country. Others promote human rights in Russia in the present.
In other words, it's a group that wants not only to learn the lessons of history, but to spread them further. A million dollars could help them survive—literally—in a country where it is neither easy nor safe to oppose the government.
Paul Berman, author, Power and the Idealists
If I had a million dollars, which I don't, I would give it to a little cluster of political and intellectual projects in Britain whose purpose is to renovate the liberal left with new ideas. The people working on these projects are best known for having produced a document called the Euston Manifesto, which was composed in a bar near the Euston station of the London metro. (If these people had a million dollars, they wouldn't have to compose their manifestos in bars—they would be able to rent a proper office for themselves.) Their online journal, Democratiya, has become, by my lights, the liveliest and most stimulating new intellectual journal on political themes in the English-speaking world—certainly the liveliest new thing to appear on the English-speaking left in a good long time. Their project Engage has rather bravely taken up the challenge of arguing against the slightly demented anti-Zionism that appears to have apparently overrun whole regions of British intellectual life. And people from the same group put out a couple of vigorous blogs as well: Harry's Place and Normblog.
Someone else with a million dollars to give away might wonder why it is so important to subsidize these tiny projects in Britain. My own judgment of world events leads me to think that not only are we facing horrendous disasters here and there, we are also failing to respond adequately even in our own analyses and arguments. We need a bit of fresh thinking. And here they are, the people who are thinking freshly: the little circle of British intellectuals and activists who composed the Euston Manifesto, who are putting out Democratiya, who are promoting Engage, and are running the various blogs. My money is on them.
David Brooks, columnist, New York Times
If I had a million bucks, I'd give it to the Incarnation Center. This is the Connecticut summer camp I attended and worked at for 15 years as a boy, which was instrumental in my own growth and in the flourishing of dozens of my friends. It takes kids from all over the New York area—some rich and some very poor—and integrates them, and gives them a place where they can develop lasting bonds. It's a general-interest camp, the kind that is dying in this age of computer camps and other specialty institutions. It's a place where suburban teens sleep in tents and cook all their meals over an open fire. Mostly it's a place where children can step off the achievement treadmill and mature in the ways that really matter—meeting different sorts of people, confronting fear, facing hardship. It was also the source of a thousand stories that my friends and I retell decades later, inducing intense boredom in our spouses.
Illustration by Rob Donnelly.