‘Twas the Season
In the spirit of “the most wonderful time of the year,” I thought we’d look at what the rich are giving, so that we would have a better way of knowing how much we should give.
Starting off with the man who made the most news for his donation to the U.N. – Ted Turner. Ted pledged $1 billion to the U.N. for programs that “feed children, remove land mines and help refugees and the very poor” and study climate change. These funds will be doled out at the rate of $100 million per year for 10 years. Ted is using his stock in Time/Warner as collateral meaning that he has placed his trust in this stock. If it goes down in value, he may have a problem. He has also “retained his voting power and the value of further appreciation.” It was a pledge. He didn’t hand anyone a check for a billion dollars. He also gets the tax benefits of donating this sum of money. Ted’s net worth at the time of the pledge was $3.2 billion. He pledged what he had accumulated ($1 billion) over nine months. The amount of interest earned on a billion dollars is $2 million per day. That means that Ted earns approximately $1 billion in 167 days in interest alone.
Now to Bill Gates, the man who is worth an estimated $38 billion. Bill had, by September, given $215 million, “most of which went to bringing the internet to public libraries.” While this seems a little self-serving, I want to talk about another recent donation. A small town trying to convert an old school yard into a public park needed to raise $20,000. They have started by collecting bottles, cans and donations. Someone wrote to Bill asking him for a contribution. Bill was so touched by the letter that he sent them $5,000 bringing the total raised by the community $6,500. Bill earns approximately $76 million a day in interest.
Michael Eisner, head of the Disney Corporation, recently set up and donated to a charitable foundation run by his wife. He gave the foundation one million shares of stock worth an estimated $89 million. He has also exercised stock options giving him 7.3 million shares (about $565 million). One note on shares of stock: they are usually given so that the donor can receive a tax break. The next note on stocks: When a company gives stock to its employees, as soon as the employee sells that stock for cash, the company can claim it as a loss on its taxes, thus receiving a tax break.
The third person we are going to look at is George Soros. George’s estimated worth is $5 billion. He has donated about $1.5 billion in 36 countries through his foundations. His donations are controversial. He has donated money for the legalization of drugs as medicine, and he has been accused of devaluing the currencies in Thailand and Malaysia. His philosophy is to help fund “open societies.” He has promised $500 million to Russia, which will go to mother-child care, education and libraries, among other things. His charitable acts have given him access to the upper echelon in international politics including Boris Yeltsin. He is the one I know the least about.
So what does this mean? If we are to pledge the same amount as Ted based on our incomes, how much would that be? If we look at it as net worth, we would have to give one-third of what we are worth. In my case, I am about $24,000 in debt. If we look at it as change in net worth, we would have to give the amount that are net worth increased in 9 months. If we look at it in terms of interest earned over a six month period of time, we would have to give that amount of money (about $25 on a $1,000 CD).
It may be unseemly to attack these people for their charitable contributions, but that is not what I am doing. I am attacking them for their lack of charity. They may be pledging and giving what seems to us common folk huge sums of money when in fact, they are gaining more than they are losing. They aren’t giving what they can afford; they are giving that which will bring them influence, power and publicity.
The best example of this is Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind ’97.” Billed as a tribute to Princess Diana from which all the proceeds go to her charity foundation, it was nothing more than a cheap publicity stunt capitalizing on someone’s death. He took the same song that he had written for Marilyn Monroe, and not even changing the chorus, dedicated it to Diana. Surprisingly, he released his new album just weeks after his dedication to the memory of Diana. (Please note that Target refused to give the proceeds of the song to charity citing that five percent of their total profits already go to charitable organizations.)
In the U.S., very few people know what it is like to love in true poverty. We have our cars, our homes, our cable TV, our college educations, our running water, our food, and we still complain about not having any money. We don’t have to worry about where our next meal is coming from or if we are going to freeze tonight. We accumulate vast sums of money at the expense of relationships, life and others, and then we do nothing with it. It does not fulfill us, it does not bring us happiness, it does not help us, and the price we pay is our conscience, our creativity and our souls.
This started as a way to increase your charitable contributions, but it really isn’t about that. It’s about our role in the universe. Are we making life easier or harder for each other? Are we doing what we can to alleviate suffering or are we helping to cause it? Are we giving all we can (time, advice, help, lending an ear), or are we giving all we can to earn all we can? We have all heard that “money isn’t everything,” but are we living our lives as if it were?