Buffett and Gates: Billionaires, Give Away Half Your Money!

Billionaires: "Uh... all right."

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This week, Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett and Microsoft chairman Bill Gates called upon their fellow billionaires to pledge half their wealth to charitable causes, either in their lifetimes or after their deaths. It's the cornerstone of an ambitious philanthropy initiative, the Giving Pledge, that Buffett and Gates hope will circulate money to causes and organizations that need it most. (Buffett has said that he eventually plans to give away some 99 percent of his money.)

  • This Can Only Lead to Good Things, concludes Carol Loomis at Fortune. "Society cannot help but be a beneficiary here, by virtue of at least some dollars and perhaps many," Loomis writes in a lengthy piece that explains how Buffett and Gates came to develop their idea. "Nor will it be just the very rich who will perhaps bend their minds to what a pledge of this kind means. It could also be others with less to give but suddenly more reason to think about the rightness of what they do."
  • Morbid Thumbs Up From Bloomberg, Broad  Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York City, and Eli Broad, a philanthropist and former CEO of SunAmerica, have endorsed the Giving Pledge in principle, though their language was oddly preoccupied with death. Broad and his wife released a statement saying that "We agree with Andrew Carnegie's wisdom that 'the man who dies rich, dies disgraced.'" Bloomberg, for his part, called the Pledge "a fantastic idea" before taking his own turn into the thanatoid: "I am a big believer in giving it all away and have always said that the best financial planning ends with bouncing the check to the undertaker."
  • How This Is Like AA  The Economist explains that billionaires who take the Pledge will write "a public letter promising to donate 50% or more of their wealth. Mr Buffett himself has written the first, which is published on a website ... Although the letters will not be legally binding, they are intended to create a moral obligation which will be reinforced by peer pressure from others who take the pledge—a bit like members of Alcoholics Anonymous who promise to stay off the booze."
  • Maybe There's a Better Way?  "Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are trying to urge billionaires around the world to give half their money to charity. That would be great," writes Matt Yglesias of Think Progress. "But maybe what we really need some super-rich charitably inclined businessmen to do is finance some new ventures in these quasi-utility markets like charge cards, cell phones, mortgage origination, etc. based on a 'don't screw the customer over' business model. The striking thing about the credit card universe, after all, is that there's very little competition and no meaningful difference in business practices between Visa and MasterCard. But I don't think it’s written in stone anywhere that there can be only two."
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