If I had any money, this is what I’d do with it:
The Giving Pledge is an effort to invite the wealthiest individuals and families in America to commit to giving the majority of their wealth to the philanthropic causes and charitable organizations of their choice either during their lifetime or after their death.
Basically, Bill and Melinda Gates are encouraging their rich fat-cat friends to put their vast fortunes to a specific use – financing philanthropic projects. In a gesture that is essentially a big “fuck you” to Ayn Rand, those people who most typify her heroic characters are deciding not to let the free market decide how best to solve the problems of the world. Instead, they’re pledging their (quite frankly) obscene amounts of money to make measurable and concrete improvements in the lives of those who will benefit from it most.
This is far from simply throwing away money to expurgate white guilt or noblesse oblige, as Eli and Edythe Broad note:
“Before we invest in something, we ask ourselves three questions that guide our decision:
- Will this happen without us? If so, we don’t invest.
- Will it make a difference 20 or 30 years from now?
- Is the leadership in place to make it happen?
Philanthropy is hard work. Many people think it’s easy to give money away. But we are not giving money away. We want our wealth to make a measurable impact. And after running two Fortune 500 companies, we’re having more fun now – and working harder – than ever.”
I don’t know how many of you have read Rand’s books. In those books, charity is done out of mewling and wheedling obligation to the hordes of lazy poor, hands outstretched. While there’s no doubt that there are lazy poor out there, and while I definitely don’t doubt that much charity is done merely so people feel (and look) less greedy for having money, that’s not an accurate description of general reality. There are real problems out there that can be solved by real investments from real people. It benefits all of us to have as few barriers to excellence as possible – how many Einstein-level intellects may have died of AIDS or malaria? What would have happened if Steven Hawking hasn’t had the benefit of modern medical technology? What if Bill Gates had been born in Harlem or on a reserve?
Anyway, this made me happy, so hopefully it makes you happy too. Also, a quick scan of the letter from the pledges reveals no invocations of Jesus or Judeo-Christian ethics (The Hiltons appear to be Catholic, so maybe I’ve spoken too soon). Seems as though people are happy just to be good human beings, rather than trying to pass through an eye of a needle.
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