Corporations vs. Philanthropists: Who Does More Good for the World?

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IBM and the Carnegie Corporation both turn 100 this month. Who has done more to help the world? (Great, and thoroughly unanswerable, question.) The Economist investigates.

The Case for Carnegie: The most important force public force for learning and education in the 20th century?

"The Carnegie Corporation's initial endowment was 27 times bigger than the annual federal government education budget; the much larger endowment of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is about double the annual education budget of New York City."

"Institutions that benefited from his money range from the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now part of Carnegie-Mellon university) and the Brookings Institution to the National Academy of Sciences and the pension fund for university teachers now known as TIAA-Cref."

The Case for IBM: The company that has employed millions of people in the last 100 years also made culture-changing innovations to retail, space exploration, and computing.

At one extreme, for instance, the benefits to society include the bar code, IBM's version of which became the standard. The firm also took part in such crucial national initiatives as America's space programme (a newly installed IBM system helped save the stricken Apollo 13). And at the other extreme it also helped form the minds of such future Nobel laureates as Benoît Mandelbrot, the pioneer of fractal geometry, and Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer, inventors of the scanning tunnelling microscope which let scientists see individual atoms.

IBM, like Carnegie, also did its bit for civil rights. In 1953 Thomas Watson junior, a similarly idealistic soon-to-be successor to his father, threatened to cancel plans for plants in Kentucky and North Carolina if they could not be fully racially integrated. After a stand-off, the state governors backed down, and the plants opened three years later.

Leave your vote in the comments section!

Read the full story at The Economist. Read Alexis Madrigal's IBM timeline here.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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