By Patricia Keegan
In his inspired and unprecedented gesture of goodwill, billionaire entrepreneur Warren Buffet has broken the mold — the obsession of the richest among us with inter-generational wealth transfer. As his logic begins to resonate through our self-indulgent society, Buffet may also have cracked the code of denial — the denial of a world punctuated with misfortune and pain that could benefit directly from personal involvement.
In the gradual transfer of $30 billion to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, in an understated, yet forceful way, Buffet could be challenging wealthy Americans to look beyond the obvious benefits of accumulated fortunes to see possibilities for far-reaching change. He seems to be asking,
“Look everybody, when is enough truly enough? At what point do you extend your wealth beyond family to the greater good of humankind? When do the laws of diminishing returns apply directly to you? Are you really being served, are you really achieving adequate return, by yet another villa in Tuscany or Thailand?”
Buffet fully understands that extreme concentration of wealth is unhealthy for the economic future of America. During the past five years, both the Bush administration and Congress have spent an inordinate amount of time shaping domestic policy to coddle the wealthy. Government is acting as the guardian of wealth and of the successful, (i.e., less taxed), transfer of that wealth to second generations and beyond. In short, the accumulation of wealth is the “game,” and its transfer is the “end game.”
Buffet has always looked beyond this thinking, and his example is now a lightening rod for change. He is moving our thinking about wealth above and beyond what we have grown accustomed to at the end of the last, and beginning of the new, century. The flamboyant and egotistical Donald Trump may have created a game blueprint for some, but Warren Buffet is the first to bring the game to its ultimate, and logical, conclusion. Since the material world ends at death, and while the search for meaning in life still has its attractions, why not let your money bring hope to a world plagued with problems. Why not enjoy immediate, gratifying and “high return” investment results?
He has cracked more than one code, and in it, one can see an element of Divine inspiration. Unlike the common, futile clutch at immortality, Buffet’s approach is not an ego-building endeavor that builds a foundation in his own name. Instead, because of their experience and successful track record, he chose to put his billions in the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. By being a model, showing the world where an American billionaire is focusing his attention, Buffet has cracked the code of complacency, desensitization, preoccupation with power, and insipid celebrity. The nobility of this gesture should inspire others to follow.
If even a small percentage of wealthy America’s 500 billionaires got on this bandwagon, taking the journey toward goal-directed compassion, they would be refreshed. They may rediscover the missing link — the sadly diminished altruistic spirit that made our country great in the first place.
Buffet may have added a new paradigm to the wealth accumulation game: Let’s see who gives away the most money before the game inevitably comes to an end. That, in itself, would be world changing.
In addressing the world’s problems, there is private funding and there is public funding. Each follows its own stringent rules and laws. Public funding is often choked with politically charged red tape, but it is fueled by the same source of energy — awareness and compassion.
For example, Jeff Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, and leader of the New Millennium Project, an independent advisory group to the UN, has created the most well-thought-out proposal for dealing with the fact that eight million people die each year because they are too poor to stay alive. He has proposed a way to end this catastrophe by 2020. He has traveled the world promoting the UN’s New Millennium Development Goals which many countries have signed on to.
In Sachs’ book: The End of Poverty, published last year, he explains that a group of leading scientists and practitioners from several fields, agriculture, medicine, economics, education and engineering, has made a proposal to the world. If rich and poor countries will follow through on the promises they have made over the past five years to fight extreme poverty and disease — relying on the best technology to do so — the world can save millions of lives and extricate hundreds of millions of its poorest people from the trap of extreme poverty by 2020. The cost is 50 cents of every $100 of rich-world income in the coming decade. If we could only ignite these alternatives to war, and think in terms of healing the world with the same amount of energy, fortitude and even a small percentage of the national treasure that we pour into war and military might, we could restore the America we all celebrate on the 4th of July. Above the clamor of war and the fear of terrorism, we would again represent something to be proud of in the country we love.
What greater legacy could Warren Buffet, or anyone so inspired, leave behind than knowing that his/her money can immediately save lives, improve health, offer education and self-sustenance, and even bring about peace?