Tony Blair makes a very valid and interesting point in a speech today when he says that although British and US universities have roughly the same level of public funding, American universities attract fifteen times more money from philanthropists than their British counterparts. We should be asking ourselves why that is. Why do rich Americans seem happier to part with their money to fund universities, arts projects, sporting institutions and the like, than we do?
Philanthropy in this country has a proud history. Many of our museums would never have got off the ground without it. In the 19th century there was a culture of giving, but as the role State has grown beyond all recognition things have changed. Nowadays, many people regard the State as the 'giver of first resort'.
It's also why it's far easier to raise donations for political parties or causes in the US. Even comparatively poor people are used to donating to Presidential candidates. Here, such donations remain rare, and the preserve of the rich.
British philanthropy outside the rich and famous centres around TV charity appeals which tug at the heartstrings and appease people's guilt. A £20 donation to Children in Need often makes people feel that they have 'done their bit' for the year.
So I applaud Blair's initiative on philanthropy for universities. It now needs to be expanded into other areas too.