Monday, December 30, 2013

Telling It Like It Is

A series of emails between recently deceased hedge-fund manager Robert W. Wilson and Bill Gates revealed Gates' failed attempt to get Wilson to join the "Giving Pledge" effort championed by the Microsoft billionaire. 

Giving Pledge is a campaign started by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett to convince billionaires to commit to giving at least half of their fortunes to charity in their wills.  Wilson (who committed suicide last weekend, after giving away his final millions) told Gates that the pledge is essentially “worthless” and that he wanted to “stay far away” from his effort.  

Mr. Gates, I decided more than ten years ago to try to give away 70% of my net worth and have already given away one-half billion dollars. (I’ve never been a Forbes 400) So I really don’t have to take the pledge.

Your “Giving Pledge” has a loophole that renders it practically worthless, namely permitting pledgees to simply name charities in their wills. I have found that most billionaires or near billionaires hate giving large sums of money away while alive and instead set up family-controlled foundations to do it for them after death. And these foundations become, more often than not, bureaucracy-ridden sluggards. These rich are delighted to toss off a few million a year in order to remain socially acceptable. But that’s it.  I’m going to stay far away from your effort. But thanks for thinking of me.

The Microsoft founder was not to be so easily deterred, responding (in part):

What you are doing is fantastic. You are giving a high percentage and doing it in a very efficient way to causes you have thought deeply about. 

One of our goals with the Giving Pledge is to make it more common for people to consider their philanthropic plans at a much younger age. A number of people we have talked to about the pledge have said that they are thinking through their plans now instead of waiting because of the pledge.

But Wilson slam-dunks Gates with this on-the-money rebuttal:

Mr. Gates, thanks much for your email. But as my previous email indicated, I wouldn’t have much fun or add much value to this group. You, being a liberal, think you can change people more than I think.

But let me make one comment. When I talk to young people who seem destined for great success, I tell them to forget about charities and giving. Concentrate on your family and getting rich—which I found to be very hard work.  I and the world at large are very glad you were more interested in computer software than the underprivileged when you were young.  Don’t forget that those who don’t make money never become philanthropists.  When rich people reach 50 and are beginning to slow down is the time to begin engaging them in philanthropy.

I’d greatly appreciate just leaving it at that.

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