Pete Peterson became a billionaire as co-founder of the Blackstone investment firm, but he was the son of poor Greek immigrants and never lost his distaste for profligacy and waste. He watched horrified as the federal budget went from a slight surplus in 1960 to a deficit of 2.6 percent of GDP at the end of the 1970s, and 4.1 percent of GDP (that’s $680 billion) as of 2013. Since 2008 Peterson has put more than a billion dollars of his own money into educating policymakers and the public on the dangers of that kind of fiscal imbalance. He warns that “on our current course, our children will not do as well as we have. For years, I have been saying that the American government, and America itself, has to change its spending and borrowing policies.”
The Peterson Foundation sponsors conferences, reports, debates, films, and television ads on the dangers of massive federal debt. In 2010 it launched a series of annual fiscal summits for national political leaders. The latest versions included Bill Clinton, Michael Bloomberg, Chris Christie, Nancy Pelosi, Alan Greenspan, and others. In 2011, and then again in 2012 and 2015, the foundation funded several think tanks, positioned on both the left and the right, to create plans that would eliminate federal deficits. These were then promoted to lawmakers.
This is somewhat unusual territory for philanthropy, but recently one other donor has become active on the same topic. Hedge-fund founder Stanley Druckenmiller began speaking actively to college students in 2013, warning that out-of-control entitlement spending threatened to degrade the standard of living of their generation.
- Philanthropy magazine reporting, philanthropyroundtable.org/topic/economic_opportunity/economia