Ethics and Extreme Wealth

November 14, 2006 at 6:45 am 16 comments

My friend, Clay Guy, dropped off a transcript of an interview some kids did with the world’s two richest men, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates.  Of all the questions that were asked of these two moguls, two stuck out to me. 

Bill Gates commented on reading.  He was asked what super power he would assume if he could have any and he answered – to be the fastest reader in the world.  Reading falls high enough on his list of priorities that he schedules chunks of time off, strictly to read.

The other comment was from Warren Buffet.  When asked his opinion on ethics he said (and I’m paraphrasing since I left the article at my office) that he tries to live every day as if every second is being recorded by a very pushy and hostile reporter that will be broadcasting his daily report every night on the National News.  He said that he trys to never do anything he wouldn’t want his family, friends or associates to see. That is the best description of ethical behavior I’ve ever seen.

There were a lot of jokes going around about Mr. Buffet during the announcements of his donation of 85% of his enormous fortune to the Gates Foundation.  I saw lots of cartoons of the man with his family dressed in rags or squeezing nickles.  I thought then, as I think now, how jealous of another’s success do you have to be to ridicule the man for GIVING AWAY his money? 

When asked why he didn’t leave his fortune to his children he said: “I want to give my kids enough so that they could feel that they could do anything, but not so much that they could do nothing”.  That sounds like a formula for successful, community conscious, young people to me.  We never have too many of them.

Mr. Buffet said something else that really resonated with me.  “I work in a market system that happens to reward what I do very well – disproportionately well. Mike Tyson, too. If you can knock a guy out in 10 seconds and earn $10 million for it, this world will pay a lot for that. If you can bat .360, this world will pay a lot for that. If you’re a marvelous teacher, this world won’t pay a lot for it. If you are a terrific nurse, this world will not pay a lot for it. Now, am I going to try to come up with some comparable worth system that somehow (re)distributes that.”

An honorable thought, equitable redistribution, but I’m not so sure giving it to the Gates Foundation was the best way to accomplish that mission.  Maybe I’m not smart enough to understand the structure of the Gates Foundation, but from what I can see, they focus on just three areas:  Global Development (money to building libraries, teach agriculture and hygiene, provide water and sanitation to other countries.)  Global Health (money to fight diseases in other countries) and the United States Program (money to improve technology in libraries, and create programs to raise standards in high schools.  They also seem to be providing a steady stream of income to any non-profit organization in Washington State and Greater Portland Oregon). 

Is it just me, and I am in no way saying these are not worthy causes, but why are the two richest men in America, one of which feels that there exists a moral inequity for hard working American people,  spending most of their great wealth, that they earned from American people, on other countries or their own neighborhood?


Entry filed under: Social commentary.

Cinderella and A Flash from the Past Can I Help You With That Mrs. C?

16 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Hammer  |  November 14, 2006 at 10:15 am

    I was thinking that too. The best way to end poverty it has been shown is by low interest small business loans, school loans and reinvestment into the community. The money would never disappear and would keep giving just like the Nobel fortune.
    Sending all hundred billion to Africa although a noble gesture just kind of stinks to me when the country that made them so much money has so many who could use help.

  • 2. Nessa  |  November 14, 2006 at 4:20 pm

    The quotes and ideas of these men are wonderful and inspiring. Unfortunately, peoples actions and not always aligned with their voiced beliefs. And I think some of our problems may be more difficult to fix than the very basic problems of some other countries and as cynical as this is, the PR value would not be as great.

  • 3. The Rev. Dr. Kate  |  November 14, 2006 at 5:42 pm

    You raise some very interesting and excellent points? There are plenty of problems that need to be fixed right here.
    But I agree with Buffet about the way in which or society values somethings over others. It has always bothered me that someone who can sink a basket or throw a football – which has no social worth beyond entertainment – makes millions more than the folks who educate the next generation or care for the sick. Part of it is us – if we didn’t watch them play, no one would pay!

  • 4. tony  |  November 14, 2006 at 6:44 pm

    Kat, I love your blog. You’re the “Thinkin’ Man’s” post writer. Fresh ideas daily at “Kat’s Random Thoughts!” Get ’em while they’re hot!

    What irks me about Bill Gates, whereas he is a brilliant man, he pilfered the idea of the Windows Operating System from a team of other brilliant software engineers at IBM in the late 70’s. His “world view” tenet is spawned, undoubtedly, from living in the most liberal city in this nation.

    As for Warren Buffett, he ran into a salesman one day and donated his fortune.

  • 5. katcampbell  |  November 14, 2006 at 6:59 pm

    Hammer – Absolutely, I’m so discouraged that not just these two, but others with great wealth are so out of touch with their own country’s extreme poor.

    Nessa – Sad to say I think you’re right, “PR” value is everything, assuages their guilt for having all that money.

    Dr. Kate – Buffet has always impressed me with his down to earth approach to his wealth and then he did this. Tony summed it up perfectly for me in his comment.

    Tony – Its readers like you that keep me thinking. Thanks for that! I think you hit the nail on the head regarding Warren “ran into a salesman and gave his fortune away.” Perfect.

  • 6. Linda  |  November 14, 2006 at 8:03 pm

    My husband gets discusted with those of extreme wealth. I really don’t because they do help other people. We were talking about this subject this very morning. During last week’s gospel at mass, it was the story of the widow going to temple and giving her two small coins compared to the wealthy and how they gave so much. In God’s eyes, she gave more, because it was all she had to give. We try to give what we can, but that is not always easy. My husband could go round and round on this subject (as he did this morning). He will always feel that the wealthy should be giving more.

    Now as to Mr. Gates and his charity. My husband works for a very famous hospital in Baltimore that was given a large sum of money by the Gates Foundation, so I do know that he does spread it out across our nation. As far as giving outside our borders, I really have no issue with this. The reason being is that today we are a global society. Honestly, the poor of Africa are so much poorer than even the poorest here in the US and they do not have the government looking out for them. Even if we do or don’t like our welfare system, help is available for those who need it, all they have to do is seek it. With so many people looking to get into the US, I would be much happier to know that the people coming here have had access to immunizations and at least some form of health care.

  • 7. Stacy  |  November 14, 2006 at 8:51 pm

    I love my Steelers, but it gauls me that atheletes are paid such ridiculous amounts of money. The average joe has been priced out of even attending a game so the high salaries can be paid.
    As for Gates and Buffett, I don’t really fault them. Everyone who gives, gives according to their own hearts and not everyone’s heart is grabbed by the same causes and that is a good thing, I’m thinking.

  • 8. katcampbell  |  November 14, 2006 at 9:24 pm

    Linda – Thank you for letting us know about the grant to the hospital. But I’m afraid I still believe that charity begins at home. If we would concentrate on lifting up our poorest, it would provide that many more bodies to help those in places like Africa.

    Stacy – What athletes get paid makes me insane! Do you remember when the baseball players went on freaking strike? I swore I would never support professional baseball again, and I won’t.

  • 9. jackie  |  November 15, 2006 at 12:05 am

    Kat, I agree with you. I’ve thought the same things. When I read/hear all the media coverage of these good works, all I can think about are the children that are going to bed hungry, and the children that are living on the streets.

    Same with all the hype when they are relocating a whale, or saving some other animal – that’s all well and good and I like whales/animals as well as the next person – but as long as we have homeless with no food to eat – the priorities just don’t seem right to me.

  • 10. katcampbell  |  November 15, 2006 at 12:24 am

    Jackie – It’s hard to see a way clear to some kind of balance isn’t it? I love animals and just adore my pets, but they will never come before people. I live in an area full of working poor… that just doesn’t seem right to me.

  • 11. sunfloweroptimism  |  November 15, 2006 at 6:40 am

    My dear Kat, I am sorry to have to disagree with you on this one. This is a free and democratic country and everyone is still allowed to do what they like with their own money. Yes, it would be nice if more of the Gates/Buffett fortune stayed here, but they obviously think they can be more productive in Africa. I happen to agree – to have children dying from lack of clean water, malaria and other easily curable ills is a sin. They are doing a lot of good in the world.

    Like my husband always says “It beats a sharp stick in the eye.” They could have opted to just sit on their fortunes!

  • 12. katcampbell  |  November 15, 2006 at 7:15 am

    Honorable that they are doing something with their fortunes Sunflower, but I sure would like to see some of that helping more here!

  • 13. Mimi  |  November 15, 2006 at 8:02 am

    I have wondered myself why Gates gives money where he does. But he and Buffett seem to have a decent head on their shoulders. So I would like to think that maybe they know something we don’t and that is why theygive the way they do.

  • 14. katcampbell  |  November 15, 2006 at 5:26 pm

    I do admire them both, Mimi, at the level they live, I’m sure they do know something we don’t.

  • 15. Janet  |  November 17, 2006 at 9:58 pm

    I’ve often wondered why so many celebrities and wealthy people feel that giving money to other nations is more worthwhile than helping their neighbors right here?

  • 16. Kat Campbell  |  November 18, 2006 at 1:47 am

    Me too Janet. It frustrates me and makes me sad.


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