Thursday, August 12, 2010

World's Largest Pie To Be Served At Some Point

On the "watch list": "40 wealthy individuals and families" who have pledged "to give at least half their wealth to charity" -- in the newly-established tradition of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. Apparently Buffett strong-armed, er, persuaded, a number of his fellow billionaires to make what he and Gates call the "giving pledge".

Now, the cynic might say, sure, they can "pledge" all they want, but what happens when it comes down to cases? Or, what happens if they die first; do their heirs honor the pledge, or do they sue the trustees and the estate, etc.?

Another type of cynic might say, sure, but won't most of that wealth go to support "foundations" which are thinly-disguised strategems to not only preserve accumulated wealth, but to add to it if possible? And there is certainly ample historical basis for this suspicion.

And someone who is aware of the history of various rich people's legacies will say, how do they know that whoever winds up running the trust, or foundation, or whatever, will spend the money as they would have wanted? The landscape is dotted with foundations begun by ultra-conservative individuals that are now dedicated to the aid and abetting of the most blatant forms of liberalism in politics, academia, art, and so forth. You might say that the only a way a rich person can dispose of his wealth as he sees fit is to really and truly dispose of it, while he's still alive -- no trusts, no foundations, no nothing. Just spend it all and die with a dime in your pocket.

And maybe this is the intent of Gates, Buffett, et al -- but again, I'm going to contain my enthusiasm until I see what actually happens, and where this money actually goes. For one thing, I have a funny feeling that a huge hunk of this dough is going to go to support "family planning" and "population control" -- which is the way the wealthy of the West have, for many generations now, tried to subdue the unruly, unwashed, and disgustingly-fertile denizens of the "third world". Another possibility -- a remote one, I admit, but you never know -- is that some of the wealthy have heard the cry of the poor and disenfranchised... and it has them scared. After all, and as the illegal immigration controversy demonstrates, the third-world rabble is only a few hours' bus ride away from anywhere in the U.S. -- including the gated, well-guarded estates of the American nobility. Maybe they've been reading about the French Revolution. Or the Russian one. "Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown" -- and the "crown" of our time is the vast fortunes that have been made in business and finance... much of it legitimate, no doubt, but much of it the result of sheer pillage. Of course, the radical populist or collectivist (and I assume there's still a difference) will be totally disinterested in the difference between the two -- but for my money, so to speak, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with accumulating great wealth, as long as it's done legitimately and, ideally, with plenty of charity to go along with it. And I suppose that the very least one can say about the Gates/Buffet altar call is that it at least appears charitable, and might in fact do some good. But we also have enough experience with these things to know that ulterior motives are never to be dismissed.

No comments: