Dave Gallagher

Necessary Evil

More About: Philanthropy

Buffet, Gates and Saint Francis Vs. The Government

Once upon a time a rich guy asked a very wise man how he might seek eternal life. After much bickering the wise man said “Oh ok ... give away all your money and stuff and follow me ... because it is easier for a camel to walk through the eye of the needle than for a rich guy to get where you want to go”

I may not have the story exact, but close enough to make the point.

Why does a man who spends the bulk of his life acquiring assets turn around and give them away? What can we learn from such men? What the heck does this have to do with big stupid corrupt government ruining our money and undermining our freedom?

Warren Buffet announced he will be giving 85% of his $44 Billion to the Bill Gates foundation. Now, $37.4 Billion might be chump change to some of you smooth operating, Austrian School, Anarcho-Capitalist, Libertarian types, but to me thats a lot of scratch.

So why is the Oracle of Omaha emptying the piggy bank and why is the Sultan of Silicon Valley giving up his day to day operational duties at Microsoft to devote more time to his charitable foundation?

In Buffet's case, he is...statistically speaking, closer to meeting God than Gates. Mortality can certainly can change a mans thinking. It is also possible that the men who seem to have everything, and can buy what little they don't, might desire the one thing that can't be bought... a sense of spiritual purpose. I am not talking about the purely religious sense of purpose, but the true spiritual sense. The simple desire to give back to a universe that has given them (or afforded them the opportunity to earn) so much... to offer a drink to those who thirst, from their cup that runeth over.

Twenty years ago a bunch of rock stars raised money in something called Live Aid. It was a pretty big deal. I lived in Philadelphia at the time which was one of the two Live Aid concert sites. The $150 Million raised from Live Aid was used to help fight hunger and provide medical supplies to people in Africa.

Last year the Live Aid folks, 20 years the wiser, became a supra national lobbying organization with their Live 8 concerts. Unlike Live Aid which sought voluntary contributions to help the less fortunate, Live 8 was a political movement designed to pressure the G8 countries to give more in aid to African nations and to forgive African debt. The Live 8 movers and shakers included "one-semi-hit" wonder Bob Geldoff (Boomtown Rats – Tell Me Why I Don't Like Mondays) and multi mega hit maker Bono of the rock band U2. They claimed the moral authority to lobby on behalf of tax payers around the world for the G8 nations to increase aid to Africa by $25 Billion per year.

Two weeks ago I stood in the record store with the 4 DVD Live 8 concert in my hand. I had reservations about supporting a potential supra-national socialist movement but the Pink Floyd reunion was too tempting to pass up so I plunked down 40 bucks for the DVD's. The Pink Floyd set was excellent, but imagine my surprise when none other than Bill Gates came on stage to introduce UK artist "Dido". I am guessing that the one thing Bill and I have in common is that up to that moment neither of us had a clue who Dido was. Bill Gates' and my ignorance of contemporary British music aside, this seemed a strange, almost surreal scene. My first thought was why doesn't Bill just buy Africa and make it profitable? What Gates said on stage however was profound.

"If you show people the problems and you show people the solutions they will be moved to act" – Bill Gates

I believe Bill gets it... and I believe Warren was moved to act.

Now I believe the Live 8 folks are well intentioned and surely some good will come from their efforts ... hopefully much good. I certainly have to admit a certain pleasure in seeing somewhat real folks embarrassing the 8 most powerful men in the world into throwing them a bone. I especially agree with the pressure to forgive debt. True this is tax payer money, but anyone who knows anything about foreign aid knows the shameful strings attached to it. Loans are often made to poor countries with the specific purpose of forcing mal-investment that benefits well connected special interests in the giving country. The debt is then used for political leverage. It's blood money now ... they can keep it for all I care.

Again I applaud the tireless effort and good intentions of the Live 8 organizers, but lets get down to brass tacks and put this in perspective. The Live 8 organizers claim 3 Billion people viewed the event and 2 million attended the concerts. If each attendee paid $50 for a ticket and each viewer $15 to watch on pay per view a total of $25 Billion would have been raised. Not to mention concessions, videos (etc.) This equals the additional annual commitment they forced out of the G8. Instead of the 2.3 Billion people funding a charitable effort they got a free concert that was used to force government to transfer wealth from other people without their consent.

In a similar fashion, many US legislators believe the answer to our growing debt problems at home (which by the way threaten to move the US into the realm of 3rd world status) is to steal money from the dead Warren Buffets and Bill Gates of the world via increased inheritance tax.

Who do you think will do a better job of assisting poor African countries with such horrible problems as Aids, Typhoid and Hunger? And who would better manage money at home for that matter? The governments of the US, UK, France and Russia or folks like Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, You and I? Lets put it another way, would you prefer Windows XP or an operating system developed by a US government agency with congressional over site and it's source code influenced by the highest paying lobbyist? Would you rather place your retirement money in the hands of Social Security or Berkshire Hathaway?

What Warren Buffet and Bill Gates have shown us is that capitalism improves our standard of living, capitalism creates products which in turn create opportunities for others to create more services, more products and more wealth.

As Bill Gates said, people will be moved to act. People will choose to use their wealth as they see fit and many will choose to help others. When Governments tax, they limit the benefits of capitalism and usurp the right of the people to give how, where and as much as they see fit.

It is in giving that we receive - St. Francis of Assisi

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