The giving pledge

Could you give away 99% of what you own? Probably not, but that’s something Warren Buffett has promised recently. “More than 99% of my wealth will go to philanthropy during my lifetime or at death” he wrote recently (pdf).

“I will continue to live in a manner that gives me everything that I could possibly want in life”, he says of the remaining 1%, but that’s still a remarkable generosity.

After all, what is money for if not for putting to use? Despite the name of this site, I’m all for great wealth when it’s put to good use. And after a lifetime of accumulating vast sums, Warren Buffett is better placed than most to talk about how to use money well. He knows the limits of wealth, the things it cannot buy.

Some material things make my life more enjoyable; many, however, would not. I like having an expensive private plane, but owning a half-dozen homes would be a burden. Too often, a vast collection of possessions ends up possessing its owner. The asset I most value, aside from health, is interesting, diverse, and long-standing friends.

Buffett’s letter is the first to be posted at the Giving Pledge website, where he and Bill and Melinda Gates are encouraging America’s wealthiest families to give away half their wealth. If the richest 400 were to do so, it would amount to over $600 billion – more than 400 people and their families could ever use, I’m sure you’ll agree.

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22 Comments on “The giving pledge”

  1. Simon June 25, 2010 at 5:23 am #

    Nice first step, but on the flip side the two have shown that they don’t care what harm they do creating their wealth or in fact regarding Gates what harm his philanthropy projects do.

    It’ also interesting just to consider the psychology of those who won’t have a bar of the above, who need to accumulate that which they don’t need -by any means- to motivate them to do things which the rest of the community may need. 🙂

  2. Joshua Nelson June 25, 2010 at 7:11 pm #

    I agree with Simon. I find it interesting that Buffet’s pledge is notably without real sacrifice. He blatantly states that he will not sacrifice things that make up his current (extremely high) standard of living, like his private jet, yet he will donate 99% of his wealth “during my lifetime or at death.” (Sounds like most of it will come after his death)

    If you ask me, this seems like a piss-poor excuse for a donation, even if it is a vast sum of money, because it includes funds that – in a world supporting equality – should have been distributed more fairly. At the very least, I would expect – again, in a fair world – these funds to be distributed away from him and his family at death regardless of his wishes.

    While it seems like he is doing a stupendous thing here (and relative to today’s standards he really is), I feel compelled to note that he, his rich friends (Gates included) are still creating vast amounts of waste with their lifestyles and extracurricular activities. To add to that, Buffet is one of the leading climate deniers in the world, funding anti-climate activities and making a stink about the whole thing with his political and economical clout.

    So, while I hope more wealthy 1st world citizens start donating their vast sums of money following Buffet & the Gates’ Family, I have mixed feelings about the notion that this is a truly extra-ordinary sacrifice. More importantly, it seems to highly the problems in our system that allow people to be so vastly unequal.

  3. Joshua Nelson June 25, 2010 at 7:13 pm #

    oops, meant “highlight” in that last sentence, not “highly”

  4. Arindam June 25, 2010 at 7:19 pm #

    The problem is not that there aren’t enough billionaire philanthropists.
    The problem is that there are billionaires to begin with.

    An economic system that permits so much financial power to be concentrated in a few hands is invariably harmful… not only to the many that are poor, but also to the wealthy themselves, who begin by possessing money, and end up being possessed by it.

  5. Jeremy June 25, 2010 at 8:13 pm #

    Absolutely, I’d love to live in a world where there are no billionaires, and wealth is shared much more equally. Part of getting there though is for those who are already rich to speak up and say they don’t need any more, and give it all away.

    Sure, Buffett isn’t a role model in everything, and there are no excuses for his views on climate change, but if every billionaire used their money like he does, we’d be a step further towards a fairer world. The fact that he is giving away the remainder at his death, rather than passing it on to his kids, is actually really important. It breaks the cycle of privilege that is one of the most difficult things about inequality.

  6. Greg Wilson June 28, 2010 at 4:38 pm #

    Jeremy, I have applied for a patent on a new type of wind powered wind generator. I am in the process of starting a company to build, sell or lease, install and repair the generator. The generator is a completely new concept about wind energy. The company will employ a large number of people. The generator will produce enormous amounts of electricity at a very low cost. Electricity can be produced at the site of consumption reducing the need for new transmissions lines and expensive new corridors. It can develop new power grids in place that have never had electricity. This endeavor will require a huge amount of money to complete the start up. I will gladly appreciate any money from Warren, Bill, Melinda or from any other source to expiadite this endever. Do you have their cell phone number?
    Greg Wilson
    Wildsailman@gmail.com

    • Jeremy June 28, 2010 at 5:09 pm #

      Sadly not, but there must be some grants available for renewable energy innovations like yours. You could try a group like the Centre for Alternative Technology for some advice on who to contact, or hang in there for the government’s new Green Investment Bank that they keep talking about.

  7. Greg Wilson June 30, 2010 at 3:18 pm #

    Jeremy, Under the patent rules I have to wait a year before I can publish the invention out side of the USA or it’s territories. I will keep them in mind as they sound very progressive.

  8. Dominic Rowland August 9, 2010 at 10:47 am #

    I’d like to know how much these people have dodged in tax through “creative accounting”, offshore tax havens and corporate lobbying. Anybody know where I can get some figures for this?

    • Jeremy August 9, 2010 at 11:25 am #

      Good question. I bet the tax office wants to know where you can find that information too!

  9. Joshua Nelson August 9, 2010 at 6:59 pm #

    Jeremy,

    I just posted some thoughts I had about this giving pledge and Buffet’s in particular, thought you might find it interesting: http://steadystaterevolution.org/misgivings-on-giving/

    I was privileged enough to have some great conversations with the Yes! Magazine crew and some of their supports the other night that inspired me to write my thoughts on this. Anyway, great conversation going on here, too!

    It is great that there are now 40 billionaires signed up, hopefully it becomes the trendy thing to do with your money.

    Cheers,
    Joshua

  10. Doreen Agostino August 12, 2010 at 4:21 pm #

    Thank you, thank you, thank you Billionaires!

    Foretold long ago by many indigenous cultures, deep spiritual truth and today by world changing luminaries, this World Age is coming to a close. InVision it this way: systems that serve few at the expense of many are in decay like caterpillar in a chrysalis; transforming debris from unloving human interaction, as a New World comes toward us; where debris cannot follow. Dr. Bruce Lipton – Beyond Darwin

    Billionaires liberating money; unveil the 2012 authentic Shift of the Ages in action now and invite us to re-write the codes of reality!

    Leading edge physicists today agree with sages, that Infinite Light is all there is. Physicists refer to Infinite Light as fundamental electromagnetic quantum energy, while sages refer to Consciousness, God, Spirit, unconditional Love or other Name. Conscious Infinite Light responds unconditionally to human beliefs, thoughts, words, actions and feelings.

    As this Shift advances, time compresses into now of Soul. Our responses positive and negative act like a boomerang. What you, me, we focus on expands; what you, me, we oppose grows. As we awaken consciously and re-member SOUL, the Spark Of Unconditional Love everyONE naturally is … Love is for-giving. We stand at the edge of a quantum leap in Conscious EVOLution. LOVE spelled backwards in EVOLution is a clue. This is our moment, to willingly lay down our weapons and dissolve the armour around our hearts to influence a greater destiny.

    During former World Age Shifts people remained divided, fought and killed one another over diminishing resources and perished. This is a natural and RARE moment to release the past with a compassionate heart and change the course of history and her-story for all time.

    We ARE the ONE we are waiting for. The fundamental nature of Infinite Light is unity, compassion, cooperation, unconditional Love. When we see with a compassionate heart and without judgment, Infinite Light is liberated to do the heavy lifting; to set us free to journey into the heart of a New Conscious Fair Care Share World for everyONE.

    To a greater destiny for all!

  11. William .H.F.Parish September 4, 2010 at 7:58 am #

    How can a person attain some of this money to buy a Brick Manufacturing plant to create job opportunities for black people in South Africa. Regards Bill Parish

  12. K N Joshy September 30, 2010 at 4:22 pm #

    Dear Jeremy ,
    I am K N Joshy from India. Now i invite your attention to those people
    arround me , are suffering from Kidney disease in critical stage . They need dialysis three times in a week and are also affected by some other diseases. They are poor people and havnt money to continue the treatment ,which is costly .
    You know dialysis is not a permanent solution to this problem. Kidney transplantation requires at least $35000/- Also some patients who were undergone this transplation ,have not enough money to continue the medicine. Most of them sold their property for continuing the treatment. Now we are hardly arranging the money . The cost of medicine for a patient in the post operative period for along time requires $500/-per month. I humbly request you to help them as you can.
    Yours faithfully
    K N Joshy
    D2 Quarters
    220kV SubStation
    Ugrapuram Post
    Areacode-673639
    Kerala- India.
    Phone No 00919447155973

  13. K N J oshy October 5, 2010 at 4:41 pm #

    Dear Jeremy, my email address knjoshy7@gmail.com

  14. Uri Miller October 8, 2010 at 3:54 pm #

    We agree, Buffett’s promise is remarkable & inspiring. This is why we started Tiny Pledge, so that others may join in as well. Even if you are not a billionaire, you too may commit.

    tinypledge.org

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