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James Ferragut, Published September 05 2010

Ferragut: Gates, Buffett lead way

Anyone who’s ever picked up a hitchhiker, served food at a homeless shelter, stopped to help a stranded motorist, returned a lost wallet, dropped a couple of bucks in the Salvation Army’s Red Bucket, helped an elder with groceries or engaged in other selfless acts knows the rush of giving.

John F. Kennedy said: “To those whom much is given, much is expected.” This was a call to action, a challenge to responsible benevolence, marching orders for the prosperous.

Every community is divided by a fault line that separates those who have and those who don’t. Brad Pitt, who knows something about benevolence, said anyone born in the United States, regardless of their station in life, has won the human lottery. It’s an accurate observation about lifestyle, material expectations and the rest of the world.

It was the hope of the utopian 1960s counter-culture that the future would deliver America from materialism to become “one society, in one world, equal and fair …” That was naïve. But that sentiment, which really wasn’t unique to the ’60s, still resonates on some levels.

There is something in each of us that wants to see a world without AIDS, hunger and genocide. A world where the fault line isn’t so dramatic. But the question has always been: What can I do? I’m just one guy, one family, one church, one company, one organization.

A solution is revealed in the most unexpected way. Two people from two distinct generations, both what the sophomoric 1960s brain trust would have labeled “materialists,” have exceeded John F. Kennedy’s challenge by establishing the “Giving Pledge.”

Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have urged 40 of America’s richest families to donate at least half of their billion-dollar estates to charity. There are no strings attached, no political or personal agendas attached to their request. The money won’t be pooled. It can be directed to whatever cause and organization the donor chooses. To date, $150 billion has been pledged.

Buffett said that by spending any more than 1 percent of his fortune on his own family, “neither our happiness nor our well-being would be enhanced. In contrast, that remaining 99 percent can have a huge effect on the health and welfare of others.”

One of the “Giving Pledge” benefactors, oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens, said this: “I’m not a big fan of inherited wealth. It generally does more harm than good,” later saying he loves making money but giving it away is a “close second.”

Maybe the trickledown effect will kick in and the world will start to change. Imagine that. Well done, gentlemen.


Ferragut is a marketing executive, e-mail jferragut50@gmail.com