Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Our Money

piggy-bank-hand

(Photo: edel/Shutterstock)

Should Giving to Charity Be an Inoculation Against Criticism?

• May 02, 2014 • 6:00 AM

(Photo: edel/Shutterstock)

With charitable giving and profits so intertwined, the latter can’t be ignored when considering the former.

Last week, the New York Times reported that the Walton Family Foundation has contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to educational causes around the country. In 2013 alone, the Foundation donated $164 million, mostly to the charter school movement.

The author of the Times article, Motoko Rich, writes: “The size of the Walton foundation’s wallet allows it to exert an outsize influence on education policy as well as on which schools flourish and which are forced to fold. With its many tentacles, it has helped fuel some of the fastest growing, and most divisive, trends in public education.”

Tentacles, indeed. The Walton Family has given money to charter schools—and to the think tanks, which promote them, to Teach for America, which staffs them, to university departments, which research them, and to advocacy groups, which lobby against politicians who oppose them.

The Waltons are the richest family in the world. They are nothing like the Waltons who appeared on American television in the 1970s and ’80s, who barely made a living with their lumber mill. These Waltons are worth more than $148 billion.

The neighbor who comes with his garden hose to put out the fire in my house is no hero if he is the one who set my house on fire or if his failure to support the local fire company is the reason it can no longer respond.

The Economic Policy Institute has said that the Waltons were as wealthy as the poorest 35 million families in America in 2007 and then as wealthy as the poorest 48.8 million families in America in 2010. The rich, as they say, got richer.

Walmart employs 1.2 million Americans, so if they were to divide their family fortune amongst their employees, each would receive around $105,384.62. Walmart has 4,205 stores in this country and runs another 633 Sam’s Clubs. Those stores and superstores make their money with “Every Day Low Prices,” undercutting the prices of their competition by around 14 percent.

These same stores have wages, like their prices, which are lower than the competition. Outside estimates place the hourly wage of Walmart workers at less than nine dollars, but let us take Walmart spokesperson Randy Hargrove at his word: “In fact, the average hourly wage for our associates, both full and part-time, is an average of $11.83 per hour.”

Walmart’s employees are not surprisingly, then, consumers of government aid. They receive health care through Medicaid. And food assistance through SNAP. Their children receive reduced or free lunches at school. Walmart’s employees qualify for these government benefits because even though they are employed, some of them full-time, Walmart does not pay them enough to live above the poverty line.

By the calculations of Americans for Tax Fairness, Walmart made $16 billion in profit last year, but benefited from “tax breaks and taxpayer subsidies estimated at more than $7.8 billion.” Those government benefits included $6.2 billion to employees through assistance programs, $1 billion in tax breaks and loopholes, and $607 million in avoided taxes by the Walton Family.

So when the Walton Family Foundation does something like give $164 million to educational causes, as it did last year, we might ask why they distribute aid to anyone but their own employees. Especially after the criticism Walmart received last Thanksgiving when a store in Ohio held a food drive for its own employees.

Why not, indeed? To ask such a thing is apparently offensive to many people quoted in the Times article about the beneficence of the Waltons. Dr. Marco Clark, who founded and runs the Richard Wright Public Charter School for Journalism and Media Arts, which received $250,000 from the Waltons in 2011, says that it is wrong to ask such questions.

“Those who want to criticize any philanthropy group for giving money to kids to change their futures,” Clark said, “there’s something wrong with them.”

When Dr. Marco Clark speaks of the futures of our children, it’s worth considering if the business model of Walmart has anything to do with their futures being imperiled. After all, the neighbor who comes with his garden hose to put out the fire in my house is no hero if he is the one who set my house on fire or if his failure to support the local fire company is the reason it can no longer respond.

Charity is not an inoculation against criticism, though it is so often used that way. Even if you are not opposed to the charter school movement, then you still might question a corporation whose charity is made possible by the exploitation of its employees. It is not only what a corporation does with its profits that matters, but how such profits are made.

Casey N. Cep
Casey N. Cep is a writer from the Eastern Shore of Maryland. She has written for the New Republic, the New York Times, the New Yorker, and the Paris Review. Follow her on Twitter @cncep.

More From Casey N. Cep

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 22 • 4:00 PM

The Last Thing the Women’s Movement Needs Is a Heroic Male Takeover

Is the United Nations’ #HeForShe campaign helping feminism?


October 22 • 2:00 PM

Turning Public Education Into Private Profits

Baker Mitchell is a politically connected North Carolina businessman who celebrates the power of the free market. Every year, millions of public education dollars flow through Mitchell’s chain of four non-profit charter schools to for-profit companies he controls.


October 22 • 12:00 PM

Will the End of a Tax Loophole Kill Off Irish Business and Force Google and Apple to Pay Up?

U.S. technology giants have constructed international offices in Dublin in order to take advantage of favorable tax policies that are now changing. But Ireland might have enough other draws to keep them there even when costs climb.


October 22 • 10:00 AM

Veterans in the Ivory Tower

Why there aren’t enough veterans at America’s top schools—and what some people are trying to do to change that.


October 22 • 8:00 AM

Our Language Prejudices Don’t Make No Sense

We should embrace the fact that there’s no single recipe for English. Making fun of people for replacing “ask” with “aks,” or for frequently using double negatives just makes you look like the unsophisticated one.


October 22 • 7:04 AM

My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.


October 22 • 6:00 AM

How We Form Our Routines

Whether it’s a morning cup of coffee or a glass of warm milk before bed, we all have our habitual processions. The way they become engrained, though, varies from person to person.


October 22 • 4:00 AM

For Preschoolers, Spite and Smarts Go Together

New research from Germany finds greater cognitive skills are associated with more spiteful behavior in children.


October 21 • 4:00 PM

Why the Number of Reported Sexual Offenses Is Skyrocketing at Occidental College

When you make it easier to report assault, people will come forward.


October 21 • 2:00 PM

Private Donors Are Supplying Spy Gear to Cops Across the Country Without Any Oversight

There’s little public scrutiny when private donors pay to give police controversial technology and weapons. Sometimes, companies are donors to the same foundations that purchase their products for police.


October 21 • 12:00 PM

How Clever Do You Think Your Dog Is?

Maybe as smart as a four-year-old child?


October 21 • 10:00 AM

Converting the Climate Change Non-Believers

When hard science isn’t enough, what can be done?



October 21 • 8:00 AM

Education Policy Is Stuck in the Manufacturing Age

Refining our policies and teaching social and emotional skills will help us to generate sustained prosperity.


October 21 • 7:13 AM

That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you’ve (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.


October 21 • 6:00 AM

Fruits and Vegetables Are About to Enter a Flavor Renaissance

Chefs are teaming up with plant breeders to revitalize bland produce with robust flavors and exotic beauty—qualities long neglected by industrial agriculture.


October 21 • 4:00 AM

She’s Cheating on Him, You Can Tell Just by Watching Them

New research suggests telltale signs of infidelity emerge even in a three- to five-minute video.


October 21 • 2:00 AM

Cheating Demographic Doom: Pittsburgh Exceptionalism and Japan’s Surprising Economic Resilience

Don’t judge a metro or a nation-state by its population numbers.


October 20 • 4:00 PM

The Bird Hat Craze That Sparked a Preservation Movement

How a fashion statement at the turn of the 19th century led to the creation of the first Audubon societies.


October 20 • 2:00 PM

The Risk of Getting Killed by the Police If You Are White, and If You Are Black

An analysis of killings by police shows outsize risk for young black males.


October 20 • 12:00 PM

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they’re motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.


October 20 • 11:00 AM

My Dog Comes First: The Importance of Pets to Homeless Youth

Dogs and cats have both advantages and disadvantages for street-involved youth.


October 20 • 10:00 AM

Homophobia Is Not a Thing of the Past

Despite growing support for LGBT rights and recent decisions from the Supreme Court regarding the legality of same-sex marriage, the battle for acceptance has not yet been decided.


October 20 • 8:00 AM

Big Boobs Matter Most

Medical mnemonics are often scandalous and sexist, but they help the student to both remember important facts and cope with challenging new experiences.


October 20 • 6:00 AM

When Disease Becomes Political: The Likely Electoral Fallout From Ebola

Will voters blame President Obama—and punish Democrats in the upcoming mid-term elections—for a climate of fear?


Follow us


My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.

That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you've (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they're motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.

How to Water a Farm in Sandy Ground

Physicists investigate how to grow food more efficiently in fine-grained soil.

Unlocking Consciousness

A study of vegetative patients closes in on the nature of consciousness.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.