... the week’s big news on the philanthropy front. Forty U.S. billionaires have very conspicuously pledged to give away half their fortunes, a sum which could amount to US$160-billion.
... The “Giving Pledge” initiative was announced in June by bridge buddies Bill Gates and Warren Buffet ... Mr. Buffet noted ... that “We just want the general level of philanthropy to step up.” He also revealed that the 40 pledges had come as a result of approaching “70 or 80” people on the Forbes list of billionaires.
This implies one criticism, and raises an inevitable question. The implied criticism is that businessmen have not traditionally been charitable enough. The question is: What about the contacted billionaires who didn’t pledge?
... The criticism is wide of the mark. Throughout history, the greatest capitalists have traditionally been the greatest public benefactors. ... But the central ungrasped fact was that capitalists did the most good in the process of earning their fortunes.
... As for that inevitable question about those other 30 or 40 billionaires, what did they say to Messrs. Gates and Buffet? If it was "Thank you, but I’ll take care of my own charitable contributions without being morally strong armed by you," then more power to them.
... The market system that enables certain individuals to earn billions without injuring others is almost incomprehensible to minds that still carry many primitive moralistic assumptions. These include the zero-sum suspicion that if somebody is very rich, others must have been impoverished in the process. Related to this is an almost universal tendency to bemoan income and wealth "gaps." But if capitalist wealth differentials are oppressive, then it stands to reason that the world would be a better place if Messrs. Gates and Buffet — and indeed all business billionaires — had never been born.
... several great observers of capitalist society, including Joseph Schumpeter, Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, have noted how muddle-headed businessmen can be outside their sphere of expertise, and how easily they can be persuaded to subscribe to, and support, subversive notions.
Bill Gates in particular has wandered into the dangerous territory of "Global Salvationism," ... Mr. Gates has also allied himself with government aid programs which have been notorious failures for decades.
... what could have persuaded Messrs. Gates and Buffet to put such conspicuous pressure on their fellow billionaires, apart from making themselves look good. Perhaps it was a well-intentioned attempt to "give capitalism a good name." They might devote a tiny part of their fortunes to investigating — and addressing — why it still has such a bad one.
Saturday, August 7, 2010
Peter Foster has fine food for thought regarding the Gates/Buffet billonaire charity giveaway: