[Marxism] Critic of ruling class philanthropy dies
lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Nov 4 13:36:05 MST 2005
NY Times, November 4, 2005
Waldemar Nielsen, Expert on Philanthropy, Dies at 88
By WOLFGANG SAXON
Waldemar Nielsen, an influential and widely recognized expert on the
workings of charitable foundations who wrote exhaustive, critical analyses
of America's foremost philanthropies, their goals and their methods, died
on Wednesday in New York, where he lived. He was 88.
The death was announced by his family.
His seminal work, "The Big Foundations" (Columbia University Press, 1972)
parted the curtain on the secretive world of private fortunes and public
largess. An encyclopedic work, it profiled, one by one, philanthropies with
assets of $100 million or more - the "Big 33" of that era - topped by the
Ford Foundation, which had $3.6 billion at the time the book was being
compiled. The book, which included sketches of the founding philanthropists
- Carnegie, Kellogg, Ford, Rockefeller, Mellon, DuPont and others -
reflected as well on the American character and American business.
Mr. Nielsen examined, and often found wanting, the foundations' performance
and the ways in which they responded to challenges to their tax-exempt
status and demands for openness and diversification. He deemed them
generally timid, inert and unimaginative but saw them, potentially, as a
force for public good.
Reviewing the book for The New York Times, Thomas Lask wrote that Mr.
Nielsen "has exposed for scrutiny the history, workings and rationale of
institutions we have heard a lot of and know little about." The review went
on to say that there was "very little" in Mr. Nielsen's presentation to
warrant optimism about secretive, unaccountable institutions born as
"playthings of the very rich" and past their social utility.
Mr. Nielsen updated the scene to the mid-1980's with "The Golden Donors"
(E. P. Dutton, 1985), which expanded his history of philanthropy and
introduced a new crop of foundations. He rated the new ones mediocre for
the most part, with some exceptions, like those of Robert Wood Johnson,
Mary Lasker and Brooke Astor.
Foundations, started with money the superrich would otherwise pay in taxes,
the argument went, carried out tasks that were beyond the means or scope of
government. Andrew Hacker, reviewing "The Golden Donors" in The Times,
wrote that Mr. Nielsen found that "few foundations are delivering on that
Mr. Hacker continued: "This should be a matter of public concern. After
all, one reason taxpayers must pay more every April is that wealth made
over to foundations not only avoids inheritance levies but becomes
tax-exempt in its new incarnation."
In "The Golden Donors" Mr. Nielsen wrote that "in the great jungle of
American democracy and capitalism there is no more strange or improbable
creature than the private foundation. Private foundations are virtually a
denial of basic premise: aristocratic institutions living on the privileges
and indulgence of an egalitarian society; aggregations of private wealth,
which, contrary to the proclaimed instincts of Economic Man, have been
conveyed to public purposes. Like the giraffe, they could not possibly
exist, but they do."
People familiar with the business of philanthropy agree that foundations
bristled at Mr. Nielsen's candor, which thrust them uncomfortably into the
spotlight, but that his stinging criticism ultimately brought changes.
Brian O'Connell, the founder of Independent Sector, an umbrella
organization for large foundations and public charities, said, "He was
often shunned because of his sharp observations and tongue, which pointed
up the shortcomings" of foundation officials.
In "The Golden Donors," Mr. O'Connell said, "Wally took some of the biggest
foundations to task for their cautiousness, their reluctance to take gambles."
Sarah L. Englehardt, president of the Foundation Center, which helps grant
seekers, said that Mr. Nielsen "can be credited with the emerging
self-consciousness of foundations" and that "the new generation of leaders
of foundations have been very much influenced by his work."
Early in his career, Mr. Nielsen worked in government, disseminating
information about the Marshall Plan to the American taxpayer and to its
beneficiaries in Europe. He directed domestic and overseas programs at the
Ford Foundation, becoming an expert on Africa, and, as the president of the
African-American Institute in the 1960's, fostered cultural and educational
exchanges with a continent still struggling to emerge from colonialism.
His first three books dealt with issues facing Africa. The third volume,
"The Great Powers in Africa" (Praeger, 1969), published for the Council on
Foreign Relations, gained the author wide recognition.
Backed by statistical tables, "The Great Powers and Africa" examined Africa
at the end of the colonial era, when countries became a battleground for
superpower politics. One chapter assessed the "white redoubt" in southern
Africa as a "smoldering catastrophe." Reviewing American policy, Mr.
Nielsen discounted direct military intervention as a solution but suggested
aid to liberation movements in nearby states and the kind of economic
strictures, in fact, that eventually helped end South Africa's apartheid
Waldemar August Nielsen was born on March 27, 1917, in Greensburg, Pa., and
graduated Phi Beta Kappa in economics and business administration from the
University of Missouri in 1939. He was chosen as a Rhodes scholar, but the
outbreak of war in Europe kept him from going to Oxford. He got an M.A. in
political science at the University of Missouri in 1940 and quit a doctoral
program to take an economist's job with the Department of Agriculture.
Once the United States entered the war, he saw action as a radar officer in
the Pacific, receiving a bronze star. He was a special assistant to the
secretary of commerce in Washington after the war and lived in Paris as
deputy and later director of the State Department's European information
program at Marshall Plan headquarters.
He joined the Ford Foundation in 1952 as deputy director of its behavioral
sciences division, rose to executive assistant to the president and
associate director international affairs, dealing with the foundation's
programs overseas. He was elected president of the African-American
Institute in New York, a foundation beneficiary, and oversaw programs that,
among other things, broke educational bottlenecks by helping young Africans
to an otherwise unaffordable secondary education in their own countries.
After leaving the African-American Institute in 1970, he started his own
firm, Waldemar A. Nielsen Inc., a consultancy on corporate social policy,
which he ran in New York until four years ago. Over the years, he was
affiliated with the Aspen Institute and the Council on Foreign Relations.
In 2000 a Nielsen chair in philanthropy was endowed in his honor at
Georgetown University's Public Policy Institute.
Mr. Nielsen is survived by his wife of 62 years, Marcia Kaplan Nielsen; a
daughter, Signe Nielsen of Manhattan; a sister, Rita Nielsen of Fort
Lauderdale, Fla., and a granddaughter.
David Cay Johnston contributed reporting for this article.
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