The Giving Pledge, brainchild of Bill Gates and Warren Buffet
, has finally gone public with a list
of 38 billionaires who will be giving half of their fortunes to
charity. The public pledge is designed to encourage other wealthy
individuals to follow suit. Also, it's already managed to jump-start an
interesting public discussion about philanthropy, particularly as it
applies to the very rich.
- This Is Different "Some philanthropic acts feel at best insubstantial, at worst insincere," writes New York Magazine's Nitasha Tiku,
citing 1 percent profit donations for some companies. "This is not like that.
... Sure," she continues, these billionaires "only need a tenth of
their money to live on. But we always imagined that if we ever made the
kind of wealth that lasted generations (ha!), we'd be thrifty about it
in case our grandchildren turned out to have the work ethic of Paris
- The American Culture of Philanthropy In a
Guardian piece wondering how British billionaires could be persuaded to
follow the lead of their American counterparts, Matthew Bishop and Michael Green
thoughtfully examine what it is the Giving Pledge has actually done:
"This is," they comment, "serious money and marks another milestone in
the resurgence of philanthropy--what we call philanthrocapitalism--over
the past decade." They also note that while "richesse oblige is
part of American culture," the Giving Pledge "marks a change in
strategy," an upping of the ante. "The peer pressure to give is great
(for donors large and small), which is what makes US givers three times
as generous as Britons. The Giving Pledge has upped that peer pressure
and set an expectation that only serious generosity gets you into the
new A-list of philanthropy." Though critics of the pledge point out
folks like Bloomberg might have planned to give away their money
anyway, doing it publicly is key.
- Pressure Is On "The group's hope," writes Benjamin Sarlin
at The Daily Beast, "is that the initial announcement will go viral
within ultra-rich social circles, gathering momentum as more donors
pledge their fortune. Undoubtedly it's an issue that will come up in
interviews with many billionaires who didn't make the cut." Sarlin
himself points out two "conspicuously absent from the initial roster of
pledges": Oprah Winfrey and George Soros.
- Psyches of the Super-Rich "The data," muses Doris Burke
at Fortune back in June, when the plan first went public, "suggest that
there is a huge gap between what the very rich are giving now and what
the Gateses and Buffett would like to suggest is appropriate--that 50%,
or better, of net worth. The question is how many people of wealth will
buy their argument." She lists some of the "fears that people have
about philanthropy" that came out in the dinners designed to marshal
support for the pledge:
Some people talked about the
emotional difficulty of making the leap from small giving to large.
Others worried that their robust philanthropy might alienate their
children. ... What does going public with big gifts do to the peace in
your life? Won't pleas from charities be unending? How do you deal with
giving internationally, which too often seems like throwing money down
a hole? These are valid concerns, say the Gateses, the kind raised by
people who want to feel as smart about giving as they were about making
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