Warren Buffett

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Is the ‘golden age of philanthropy’ a sign of good times or bad? | 

CBS News’ 60 Minutes recently did a piece featuring Bill and Melinda Gates, along with Warren Buffett and a select group of other billionaires, describing the motivation behind a philanthropic initiative called The Giving Pledge.

Charlie Rose hosted the chat, titled The Giving Pledge: A New Club for Billionaires, briefly noting at the opening that the wealthiest 400 Americans hold as much wealth as half of all Americans living at the bottom of the wealth scale. (It’s actually much worse than that.) Said Rose:

“While resentment toward the super-rich grows, there may be a silver lining taking shape. It turns out a lot of those rich people are giving staggering sums of money away in what is being called a golden age of philanthropy.”

Silver lining for the golden age. Nice. But the 60 Minutes piece is perhaps more disturbing for what it leaves out – by glossing over the rising tide (or dark storm clouds, to extend Rose’s mixed metaphor) of inequality and by portraying public concern with this trend as resentment of the rich.

This isn’t about envy. It’s about equity and many see the rise of super-philanthropy as the flip side of astonishing new levels of inequality that deserve serious scrutiny. Continue reading

Charity is a broken concept, says Warren Buffett’s Son | 

bio-picPeter Buffett, son to billionaire Warren Buffett, describes how he came to understand the nature of and the problems with philanthropy and charity. He describes in the a New York Times OpEd how he was introduced to the sector when his father established three foundations for his children to run.

The musician had little experience in charity work, but soon learned of what he called ‘Philanthropic Colonialism.’ Donors act on an urge to save other people that often involves implementing solutions without regard for social norms, culture or even physical location. This can lead to problems or actually make matters worse for the people who are supposedly being helped, says Buffett.

However the problems of charity go much deeper. He makes the case that philanthropy and charity perpetuate the very systems that allow for widespread poverty. The very people who benefit from a warped global system are the ones who later turn around and give away their money without ever really changing the fundamental reasons that massive inequalities exist.

As more lives and communities are destroyed by the system that creates vast amounts of wealth for the few, the more heroic it sounds to “give back.” It’s what I would call “conscience laundering” — feeling better about accumulating more than any one person could possibly need to live on by sprinkling a little around as an act of charity.

Continue reading

Clay’s Wordle on the Giving Pledge | 

Clay Holtzman of the Puget Sound Business Journal decided to conduct a unique analysis aimed at determining what kind of causes are of most interest to those rich folks who have committed to The Giving Pledge.

So he did a Wordle (see below).

As Clay explained on his blog, there are lots of folks who would like to get some of this money the super-rich say they intend to give away.

The Giving Pledge, as you may recall, is a project promoted by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett aimed at increasing charitable donations by the very wealthy. And as you may also recall, it hasn’t gotten very many of the super-rich to step up — even though it’s pretty vague, unenforceable and may not even really be that good an idea (if the goal is about trying to make the world a better place).

But for those looking for support, it would still be good to know where these folks intend to donate their wealth.

So Clay took many of the letters of commitment written by donors describing their goals and interests and punched them into the word-analyzing software program known as Wordle to create this visual guide for fund-seekers:

Clay Holtzman, Puget Sound Business Journal

Giving Pledge Wordle

Good luck figuring out how to make the pitch!

The Giving Pledge: Adverse, unintended and uncharitable consequences | 

What could be wrong with Bill Gates and Warren Buffett asking the super-rich to donate their wealth to charitable causes or foundations?

Andrew Carnegie: "He who dies rich dies in disgrace"

That’s the point of The Giving Pledge, an initiative Gates and Buffett officially launched last June, which set an original goal of raising something like $600 billion in charitable promises from the world’s estimated 800 or so billionaires. So far, something like 57 have made the pledge.

A lot is wrong with the Giving Pledge, says Pablo Eisenberg, a leading expert on public policy and philanthropy at Georgetown University. Continue reading

A few more billionaires join the Giving Pledge | 

A new crop of the super-rich have agreed to sign up with Bill Gates’ and Warren Buffett’s “Giving Pledge” — a project aimed at convincing the wealthy to promise to give at least half their accumulated wealth to charity now or when they pass on to the great gated community in the sky.

As many media noted, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is one of the new members of the Giving Pledge club.

“People wait until late in their career to give back. But why wait when there is so much to be done?,” said Zuckerberg in a prepared statement.

That makes either 56 or 57 generous billionaires (news accounts differ) who have made the pledge — out of about 400 billionaires in the U.S. and perhaps that many again worldwide.

I know this is supposed to be something to celebrate, but I wonder why so few of the super rich have stepped forward. As I’ve noted before on this blog, all the extremely wealthy are being asked to do here is make a non-binding promise to give away at least half their wealth … at some point.

Heck, even I could promise to do that. Doesn’t mean I would. I actually don’t have much. Continue reading

Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are world’s top global thinkers | 

At least, that’s what Foreign Policy magazine says with its “100 Top Global Thinkers 2010” ranking hot off the shelf.

Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are ranked number one, primarily for their work as philanthropists with a business mindset:

As the world has lost confidence in the ability of countries and institutions like the United Nations to solve global problems, Gates offers an attractive alternative vision: that the business community’s relentless drive to innovate can help with our biggest challenges, from malaria to food scarcity to illiteracy.

Hmm, I’m not sure even Gates would agree with the implication there, that a business-minded approach is an alternative to UN and government action.

To begin with, the assets of the Gates Foundation are nothing compared to the U.S. government, let alone other wealthy nations.

Both Bill and Melinda Gates, in fact, speak out constantly in support of greater government involvement and investment in foreign assistance. And while the Gateses may sometimes challenge the inertia (if not the occasional absurdity) of the UN, I’ve never heard them suggest it’s an institution we could do without.

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Gates takes an “aid critic” to task for simplistically contending that foreign aid hasn’t worked and what’s needed to improve things in Africa is just more trade and business growth. Gates writes in his response to author Matt Ridley’s new book “The Rational Optimist” on humanity and prosperity:

In discussing Africa, Mr. Ridley relies on critics who say, essentially, “Aid doesn’t work, hasn’t worked and won’t work.” He cites studies, for instance, that show a lack of short-term economic benefit from aid, but he ignores the fact that health improvements, driven by aid, have been a major factor in slowing population growth, which has proven, in turn, to be critical to long-term economic growth.

Gates goes on to say:

Development in Africa is difficult to achieve, but I am optimistic that it will accelerate. Science will come up with vaccines for AIDS and malaria, and the “top-down” approach to aid criticized by Mr. Ridley (and by the economist William Easterly) will fund the delivery of these life-saving drugs.

In addition to Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, the list includes a lot of the standard politicians and political appointees (Ron Paul? A global thinker?). But it also lists people like physician-activist Paul Farmer, Burmese dissident Aung San Suu Kyi, head of CARE USA Helene Gayle, George Soros and the amazing Elizabeth Warren (who has the small job of making Wall Street a little more honest).

And beyond the rankings of the top 100 global thinkers, FP asked them to answer some specific questions about some of the world’s biggest problems. Nearly 9 out of 10 said the Iraq War was a bad idea …

Carlos Sim Undermines Gates & Buffett Charity Pitch in China | 

I posted earlier about the weirdness of Carlos Slim and Bill Gates partnering up as philanthropists.

Here’s an article quoting the real Slim, deriding charity at a meeting in Australia while Gates and Warren Buffett are in China trying to convince billionaires there to join The Giving Pledge.

Buffett and Gates Scare Chinese Billionaires | 

I missed this the other day. Thought it was funny enough to point out, even if I’m a bit late.

Bill Gates and Warren Buffett appear to have scared off some Chinese billionaires who were worried they were going to get hit up for the Giving Pledge at an upcoming event:

Chinese Billionaires Shy Away from Gates’ Invitational Dinner

Gates, Buffett to Issue Explanation of Trip to China