Should Billionaires Join the Giving Club?

jenny erikson
Jenny Erikson
Two of the world's richest men have created the "Giving Pledge." Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, both multi-billionaires, have asked the world's wealthiest families and individuals to give at least half their fortunes to charity.

At least 40 mega-wealthy families have taken the pledge so far, to the collective tune of $125 billion.

I am a big fan of private charity, especially in opposition to public welfare. Aside from being able to choose where I'd like my money to go, I like to make sure that more of my dollar actually gets to those in need. Around 70% of money designated for government welfare programs is never delivered to those in need -- instead it's lost in overhead and bureaucracy. Contrast that to the 90% of charities that make sure 65% of incoming dollars are given to those in need, and it's hard to prefer welfare to charity.


Given my personal penchant to prefer charity to welfare, part of me really wants to applaud Gates and Buffet in their effort to encourage others to give more. However, the free-market, personal-responsibility girl in me balks at the idea.

I think it's great that people with more money than I could spend in a month at Nordstrom are pitching in financially to help those less fortunate than themselves. I don't even care if they do it to get their name on the side of a hospital. Heck, if you've earned enough money to be a big enough donor to get your name on something, then more power to you.

The part of the Giving Pledge that bothers me is the pressure now being put on others to donate half their wealth, or risk being seen as stingy or greedy by the public. After all, who really needs billions of dollars all to themselves? Of course a desire (for whatever reason) to keep billions in the bank is going to be viewed negatively, and that will only make the supposed class divide seem even wider.

Here's the great thing about America: There is no class divide. Oh sure, there are different levels of wealth, but there is no such thing as an inescapable socio-economic status. Anyone can be anything in America, as we see most evidently today in a biracial baby born to a single mother becoming the President of the United States.

I love to see people moved to give by witnessing promising students in need of educational scholarships, or battered women that need a place to heal from abuse. I would rather someone give because their heart or conscience demanded it, not because another person demanded it at the risk of social scorn.

So I remain conflicted in my feelings toward the Giving Pledge. What do you think about it?


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