A Conversation with University of Tennessee Law Professor Glenn Harlan Reynolds (Part 2 of 2)

The Instapundit founder and Substack writer talks to Michael E. Hartmann about the folly of tax-incentivized support of America’s ruling-class elites, including its philanthropic ones, and what to consider doing about it.

As the Beauchamp Brogan Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of Tennessee College of Law, Glenn Harlan Reynolds has studied and taught about law and technology and constitutional law, among other subjects. He has long prolifically contributed to the wider public discourse, as well, including through the popular Instapundit blog that he founded in 2001 as part of a class on Internet law and his Substack writing.

His knowledge and wisdom are wide-ranging; his answers to questions refreshingly direct. He does not evade.

Here’s a brief, late-January Instapundit post by Reynolds that we noted with particular interest, for example: “TAX THE RICH, FEED THE POOR, TILL THERE AIN’T NO RICH NO MORE: GOP lawmakers try to tax ‘woke private universities’ massive endowments. If it were up to me, I’d limit nonprofit tax exemptions to organizations that actually provide services to the needy.”

And in a Substack piece last year, “Thoughts on our ruling-class monoculture,” Reynolds writes, “While elections change out elected officials sometimes, the rest of our society—the bureaucracy, academia, media, corporate leadership, what is generally known as the ‘gentry’ or ‘ruling class’—remains the same.

“And our ruling class today is very much a monoculture.”

That got our attention, too, perhaps especially given a previous accordant piece or two published here.

Reynolds was kind enough to join me for a conversation last week to talk about these and related issues. In the first part of our discussion, which is here, we discuss the tax incentivizations given to the nonprofit sector and whether they’re really effecting their original policy purpose, and what to consider doing about it.

The almost 11-minute video below is the second part, during which he covers the folly of tax-incentivized support of America’s ruling-class elites, including its philanthropic ones—and, again, what to consider doing about it.

“I’m not anti-elitist in general, necessarily,” but “to me, if you’re going to have elitism, you really need to have an elite, and elite means that they should be better, and I don’t think anybody’s going to defend the proposition that the people who are running this country now are that great,” Reynolds tells me. “The evidence is everywhere that they’re not.

Asked if the major, establishment philanthropies in America part of the ruling class, he replies,

Oh, absolutely, absolutely. Indeed, one of the things that helps maintain this monoculture are the large establishment philanthropies. … They fund journalism that repeats the same ideas everywhere, they fund research and professorships at various colleges, all in the same direction, and they provide really a crap-ton of employment for the sons and daughters of the upper class to make a nice living while not having to work too hard or deal with the hoi polloi too directly. … Do I blame people for taking those jobs? Of course not. Some of them are really nice jobs, but is it so good for society that they deserve to be subsidized by the government compared with other jobs that are out there? I don’t think so.

Reynolds acknowledges that “it would be very difficult at this point to make a policy change to get rid of the ruling-class monoculture. One of the unfortunate things about ruling classes,” he notes, “is the chief function of a ruling class is to make sure it stays the ruling class, no matter how lazy and inefficient they get at anything else. They tend to be on top of that, to the best of their abilities.” And he recalls the harm that can be done, “like in Russia shortly before the Revolution, to have a ruling class that actively undermines its own position within the society. Some ruling classes actively undermine the societies they rule.”

While there’s no “magic bullet” to address the problems borne of America’s ruling-class monoculture, Reynolds suggests some potential ways to try doing so. They would include “de-emphasizing higher education in the employment process” and returning to “a century ago and [having] more rules about corporate giving, basically saying that directors of a corporation should not be allowed to take the shareholder money and give it to causes that they think are worthwhile.

“They should be focusing more on actually making money for their shareholders,” he continues. Corporations “shouldn’t be funding a lot of social causes out of shareholder money, and that’s something that could also be regulated. I mean, you could make it easy to deal with that through shareholder suits and they would stop pretty fast, I suspect.”

On philanthropy more largely, “anytime you get lots of money sloshing around without lot of controls, there’s going to be a lot of shady stuff going on,” Reynolds concludes.

The thing is, right now, there’s no one whose job it is to look at that, really. I mean, it’s usually state attorneys general or something like that, who just don’t have a lot of time or a lot of inclination, but if investigative journalists went into it, the regulators would probably have to follow.

This article first appeared in the Giving Review on February 20, 2024.

Michael E. Hartmann

Michael E. Hartmann is CRC’s senior fellow and director of the Center for Strategic Giving, providing analysis of and commentary about philanthropy and giving. He…
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