Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Give it away, give it away, give it away, now

A couple of U.S. billionaires have decided to do something with their riches, rather than stuff their green under their mattresses, or hoard cars and mansions. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are two wealthy Americans who recognize that with wealth, also comes great responsibility.

Unfortunately, despite the examples of Gates and Buffett, liberally distributing their wealth for the betterment of society, the model for wealth redistribution too often follows the lead of rich debutantes such as Paris Hilton.

Too often, religious leaders and others display their hypocrisy and cop out, by misappropriating the passage attributed to Jesus, where he says, “You will always have the poor with you…” Like much of scripture, this text is used to justify the legions of poor in America and elsewhere, when just a little generosity on the part of the nation’s wealthy could cure, or at least alleviate poverty as we know it.

Buffett’s largesse amounts to some $1.5 billion per year, given to the Bill & Linda Gates Foundation. The money has been earmarked by Buffett himself to go towards curing some of the world’s worst diseases. Buffett isn’t wasting any time after his announcement on Monday, either. His first donation is set to be distributed to the foundation, next month.

This philanthropic announcement has the potential to shake loose change from the pockets of others in the super wealthy category, as Buffett is viewed as an icon in certain circles, particularly the business and investment community.

How much money would it take to eradicate poverty? While inequality in the world seems destined to persist, what figure could make a significant improvement in the conditions of the world’s poorest citizens?

Financier, Jeffrey Sachs, thinks the amount is $150 billion per year. Others, such as Pierre Omidyar, eonomist/philanthropist and the founder of eBay, list the figure as being much less than that. Omidyar, through his own philanthropic giving, seeks to promote self-empowerment and development through microfinancing and other means.

Whatever the amount, when people of means, such as Gates and Buffett, as well as others, like Sachs, recognize the responsibility that comes with wealth, then, we are on the right road to making a difference. I’m hoping that others will follow their examples.

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