Show us the money—and put it to work now!
An angelic choir of media approbation has greeted Warren Buffett and Bill Gates’ “Giving Pledge.” The pledge they have set out to get the superrich of the nation to sign. The pledge where billionaires commit to give away the majority of their wealth to charity. Sometime. At some point, maybe after they’re dead and declining stock values and greedy heirs and legatees have taken their share.
Which is why, to make the “Giving Pledge” more than a vague promise to do good, billionaires should be asked to put an audited 50 percent of their net worth on the table for charitable use now, when it can make a difference to people starving today, not later, after they’ve worked up a heart attack from their third wife on their fourth yacht. Look at how the Forbes list changes, how many billionaires lose their fortunes and drop off it from year to year. Gates and Buffett are right to use the Forbes list as a symbolic target, but let’s get these big-talking “givers” to give now, when they’ve still got it.
I don’t want to be too cynical about billionaires right off the bat, but there’s a lot of wiggle room in that pledge. The text of the pledge obligates the pledger to give the majority of his wealth, a number that is not audited (and would obviously be minimized with taxes in mind, especially after death). In addition, the pledge just vaguely talks about giving, rather than specifying what it’s most important to give money to.
But hey, why be cynical? After all, we know from recent experience we can always trust billionaires not to hide their assets and to be extremely scrupulous about their disposition. Oh, and yes, the definition of “charity”: unspecified. (Would tips to struggling pole dancers count as anti-poverty work?
[read more: Byliner]