USA: the philanthropy of billionaire Warren Buffett

Rich and poor, cartoon

By David Walsh:

This past weekend investor Warren Buffett, to a vast fanfare from the media, announced his decision to donate some $37 billion worth of shares in his firm, Berkshire Hathaway, to five charitable foundations.

The largest recipient (receiving some $31 billion) will be The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which specializes in global health and education projects.

That one solitary human being has nearly forty billion dollars to dispose of, with a good deal left over, is appalling in itself, at a time when 1.1 billion people, one-fifth of the world’s population, live on less than $1 a day and some 3 billion on less than $2.

The planet’s three wealthiest individuals in 2005 (including Messrs. Buffett and Gates) had greater wealth than the combined gross domestic product of the world’s 48 poorest nations.

There is, in any event, something intrinsically degrading and demeaning about philanthropy.

A society in need of philanthropists is one rooted in inequality, in which the deprivation of the many is supposedly addressed by the largesse of the few.

No one can seriously suggest that social problems will be solved in this manner.

Especially in America, where an aristocracy has taken shape before our eyes over the past decade and the Bush administration is taking blind, reckless measures to eliminate all restrictions on the accumulation of personal wealth.

As for Mr. Buffett himself, there are no doubt immense personal contradictions in his life.

If one takes the media accounts at face value, he seems an honest and civilized man.

Among many unsavory, rotten types, he appears to stand out as something of an exception.

He has liberal views on social issues and has put his money to use in a number of worthy causes. He lives modestly in a home bought decades ago.

It is worth noting that Buffett’s lifestyle puts the lie to the claims by the media and the assorted apologists for corporate thievery that the fabulous sums paid to American executives are necessary to retain “the best and the brightest.”

For Buffett, at least, the accumulation of personal wealth seems not to have been the principal motivation.

See also here.

And here.

And here.

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