The man who dies rich, dies disgraced

Said Andrew Carnegie. Investor Warren Buffett and Microsoft founder Bill Gates announced that they are asking hundreds of billionaire Americans to give away at least 50 percent of their wealth to charity. They launched the website and it said each person who chooses to pledge will make this statement publicly, along with a letter explaining their decision to pledge.


What kind of impact this initiative may have? Could we expect the rich people will listen and perhaps not only rich people and this appeal will generate more money for the charities and humanitarian organizations?


Pamala Wiepking, Assistant Professor, Coordinator European Research Network on Philanthropy, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

I think it is a lot to expect if they ask 50% of the wealth. I don’t see that happen any time soon.

I do think this can have a positive effect on the donating behaviour by the wealthy in the US. It is likely that some people will follow them and make large donations as well (this is called the leadership effect). But setting the rate at 50% might also have a counter productive effect: people who are willing to donate, but not to this rate might not give at all, because they will feel any donation below 50% of their wealth will now be perceived as stingy.

One thing in my own research that I found interesting related to this (Wiepking, Pamala, and Beth Breeze. (2009). Feeling Poor, Acting Stingy: The Effect of Money Perception on Charitable Giving) is that people who are financially very well off (e.g., have wealth over 5 million euros), can feel that they are not financially secure. And it appears to be that someone’s financial perception is more important when deciding on how much to give away, than someone’s absolute actual financial resources.

Nathan Farrell, Department of Politics, University of Bristol

I think the Giving Pledge effort offers a possibility for real benefits to various philanthropic causes and charitable organisations, particularly considering the amount of money which could potentially be donated. In fairness, it is difficult to make a judgment on this venture so soon after its inception when concrete results have yet to materialise. There are, I would suggest, a number of important points to consider when thinking about this pledge. For example, it is my understanding that those who make the pledge can do so to any organisation of their choice. This could potentially mean that funds will tend to be donated to the more ‘popular’ organisations and causes, perhaps the less politicised ones and possibly in only certain regions of the globe.

Further, such ventures raise important questions regarding the nature of a global capitalist system which has allowed these billionaires to prosper in the first place. Certainly, it is important to consider those who wish to pledge vast amounts of their personal wealth to those less fortunate as worthy of praise, but might an economic system based on a fairer distribution of wealth have produced less of a gap between rich and poor and negated the need for such philanthropic ventures in the first place?

One Response

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