It’s not a new idea that the rich should give their money back to society. Andrew Carnegie, when he was the richest man in the world, said, “The man who dies rich dies disgraced.”
Though few of the super-rich these days appear to be adhering to Carnegie’s admonishment, 40 billionaires have now joined The Giving Pledge and promised to donate at least half of their wealth to a charity or other worthy cause at death or during their lifetime.
It’s not legally binding, just a written moral commitment. For most of these people — assuming that they keep their promise to give half — this approach means they still will remain super-rich and at risk of dying in disgrace.
But, hey, one step at a time.
It’s only been a few months or so since Bill and Melinda Gates, along with Warren Buffett, launched this campaign and called upon the rich to donate the majority of their wealth to charity or some worthy cause.
Both the Gateses and Buffett have said they intend to follow Carnegie’s advice by giving away nearly all of their accumulated wealth to philanthropic causes during their lifetimes. Buffett, in 2006, pledged to turn over most of his money to the Gates Foundation to further its charitable missions. Along with Bill Gates Sr., it was Buffett who in the mid-1990s was perhaps most influential in convincing Bill Gates that he needed to get serious about philanthropy.
There are reportedly more than 400 billionaires in the U.S. today — about as many as exist worldwide. It’s harder to get a handle on the number of American millionaires, with estimates ranging from 3 to 15 million millionaire households. Bill Gates said his goal with the Giving Pledge is to raise $600 billion in donations.
Due to the economic recession, charitable giving dropped last year by about 5 percent.
Kristi Heim at the Seattle Times, who also wrote about this milestone moment for The Giving Pledge campaign, flagged another article by Georgetown University’s Pablo Eisenberg worth reading. Eisenberg is worried that philanthropies lack social accountability, and transparency, arguing that the growth of charitable giving alone could actually worsen inequities.