Forbes puts the total net worth of the 400 richest Americans at more than $2 trillion. There are even more multimillionaires who add considerably to that total. Warren Buffett, the second richest American, has been trying to interest his fellow billionaires and millionaires in donating some of their money to those in need, and I offer the following plan as a way to accomplish that.
I suggest that billionaires and millionaires contribute 10 percent of their net worth (a total contribution of more than $200 billion) to a charitable fund held by a foundation governed by directors chosen by and from the contributors.
Half the annual interest would be given each year to nonprofit organizations to distribute equally for the following purposes: building new homes for those most in need of housing, supporting food cupboards and providing help for heating homes. Every year, assuming a reasonable annual interest rate, each category could receive up to several billion dollars. These purposes could be modified as the directors perceived additional needs.
This would mean that Habitat for Humanity and other hands-on nonprofits could build thousands of new homes every year; food cupboards could receive far, far more every year, which would translate into greater purchasing power at nonprofit food banks; and up to $3 billion could be added to federal LIHEAP funding for heating fuel recipients every year.
The 10 percent contribution would be a one-time gift, but the annual proceeds would be automatic, and using just half the annual interest would allow the fund to grow by several billion dollars a year to keep pace with inflation and to enhance aid to the three categories and perhaps add others in subsequent years.
I know that 10 percent of net worth is a notable part of a fortune. But giving it away does not require the same sacrifice, proportionally, as that given by the many who aid those in need. The wealthy would still retain 90 percent of their billions or millions.
The money would greatly improve the quality of life of people in need; the public perception of the rich would be much enhanced by the generosity; and those who contribute would have a happiness surpassing all others — the joy of knowing they gave in tangible form the love for others that makes our lives worthwhile.
Many years ago, the wealthy felt an obligation to help those in need, and the phrase “noblesse oblige” became part of their culture. I think most everyone feels compassion for those who lack necessities, and the number of those folks is growing larger every day.
Their needs are only partially met by those who don’t have much money themselves, and if the rich don’t provide the extra help, who will? Certainly not our almost-bankrupt and dysfunctional government.
I have hoped that legislators and members of Congress would step up and cooperate in solving this problem of poverty; but that hope is lost in their refusal to act on the principles that should be at the heart of their duties to the people.
So I now look to the rich and the promising leadership of Buffett to guide them in assuming the responsibilities that came when they created their fortunes. The rest of us will continue helping as best we can, cheered on by the prospect of large-scale help and very grateful for it.
I understand at age 84 how brief life is and how important it is to leave behind a better world. We all have legacies, most of them small monetarily; but our most important legacy is what we have done to change people’s lives for the better and to create the ripples those changes will make in lives yet unborn.
The wonderful world we live in was made for us to enjoy, and we are expected to be good stewards of it. But our responsibilities go much further, for we also are expected to be kind and loving stewards in caring for our fellow travelers during our life journey. That stewardship is rooted in unselfishness and our willingness to sacrifice for others.
Edwin Treworgy of Milo is a retired teacher.