Chuck Feeney became a billionaire by founding and running Duty Free Shoppers, and since he collected his unimaginable wealth he made it a point to give it all away. This month it has been revealed that Feeney successfully gave away billions of dollars to charitable causes and will die an average person like the rest of us. Of course, if there was a wealth tax or similar then he would not have found himself in such an inequitable situation and the money would have been spent democratically. Regardless, it’s good to see that this (now former) billionaire recognized the inequality in our world and did something about it!
Over the last four decades, Feeney has donated more than $8 billion to charities, universities and foundations worldwide through his foundation, the Atlantic Philanthropies. When I first met him in 2012, he estimated he had set aside about $2 million for his and his wife’s retirement. In other words, he’s given away 375,000% more money than his current net worth. And he gave it away anonymously. While many wealthy philanthropists enlist an army of publicists to trumpet their donations, Feeney went to great lengths to keep his gifts secret. Because of his clandestine, globe-trotting philanthropy campaign, Forbes called him the â€¯James Bond of Philanthropy.
Democracy is rule by the people and it’s up to the people to ensure that this continues to be the case. Currently the growing inequality in democracies is threatening the very existence of these societies to continue, but there is a simple solution. If we ensure that billionaires give back to the society that they used to make their wealth then we can continue to thrive. Every billionaire made their money by extracting wealth from others and we can’t forget that. If we don’t make billionaires contribute back then we’ll continue to have many social problems. Perhaps it’s time for something radical and outright ban billionaires?
But there are far more urgent reasons than poverty to get rid of billionaires and reverse the trend of economic polarization. A growing body of economic and political-science research demonstrates that Gilded Ageâ€“type inequality does not just mean having too many with too little. It is warping the very social fabric of the country, stifling mobility, innovation, investment, and growth, and putting the country at political risk.
Given all this evidence, wealth taxes are not simply a way to pay for programs for the poor. They are a way of reducing the incentive for the rich to soak up all that money in the first place. They are a way of pushing the steps of the income ladder closer together to make them easier to climb. They are a way of ending what two leading economists on inequality, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, call â€œoligarchic drift,â€ and its attending political risks. They are a way of building a healthier economic future for everyoneâ€”including those 400 families up at the tippy top.
Thirty-eight US billionaires have pledged to give at least half of their total wealth to charity during their life or after their death. Warren Buffet and Bill Gates (who have previously donated very large sums of money) have made an impression on other extremely wealth individuals in the USA with their new organization The Giving Pledge.
The campaign was started in June to convince US billionaires to give away at least half of their fortunes either during their lifetimes or after their deaths.
“We’ve really just started but already we’ve had a terrific response,” Mr Buffett said in a statement.
He added: “The Giving Pledge is about asking wealthy families to have important conversations about their wealth and how it will be used.”
Those who pledge their money to “philanthropic causes and charitable organisations” must publicly state their intention through a letter of explanation.