08 August 2010

I Am Touched

So the giga-wealthy are getting virtuous. According to CNN, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are recruiting their fellow uber-rich to commit at least half their wealth to charity.

I am touched. It is, after all, and according to our former president and the current Ayn Rand devotees on the right, "your money." What magnanimity! What generosity! What nobility!

Yes, I am being sarcastic.

In my little mind, pinched as it is by my small dreams and limited ambitions, half of 1.2 trillion dollars still leaves half a trillion dollars in private hands. So among the questions I am still asking is' "Why just half?"

If you spent $1000 a day, that's $365,000 a year, it would take you 2000 years, that's two-zero-zero-zero, years to spend it all. And thanks to the miracle of compound interest, if you could limit yourself to that amount it would never end. You would end up with more money not less. In fact, a billionaire would have to spend over $40,000,000 a year to overcome the compound interest effect.

Most people live on about one tenth of $365,000 annually, as the average American family earns about $45,000 a year. A conservative spending billionaire thus exerts an effect greater than 1000 people.

One person is as powerful as 1000. Is this good for a democracy? And let's remember, that presumes only $1 billion. Gates and Buffett and their friends have way more than that. And they are making more every year.

Is it healthy for a democratic society to have so much power invested in so few? My conservative friends rightly question the unchecked power of government. But they seem far less worried about the unchecked power of wealth. If my faith in the goodness of government is naive, would not theirs in wealth be equally gullible?

So do be grateful for the moral initiative of our giga-wealthy, but don't applaud too loudly. The gap between those that have much and the have a lot less is still enormous. IMHO it is dangerously wide, and even the good will of the wealthiest does not close it enough for a democratic society to thrive.

Just Saying...

No comments: