If Warren Buffett really wanted to be charitable with his billions, he would have concentrated on making billions more.
Simply put, I don’t believe in philanthropy or charitable giving — at least not the ordinary kind.
Charitable giving and the concept of charity itself are among the stupidest and most destructive humbugs stalking Americans of good will today. Warren Buffett’s bequest of $31 billion to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation provides an excellent opportunity to discuss the harm done in the name of charity and the confusion that surrounds the topic.
If you have the money to invest, you’ll almost certainly die with some assets; maybe a lot. But how should you dispose of them? This is definitely a "hot button" subject, combining aberrations from the very topics that are most susceptible to irrational thought: money, family, politics, and religion.
I wasn’t surprised to hear of Buffett’s bequest. He’s said for years that he would only leave a comparatively token sum to his family. But in my view, this cements him in the "Idiot Savant" roll call of rich guys, although not as solidly as the intellectually brain-dead, ethically vacant, and unintentionally comical Ted Turner, he of the billion dollar bequest to the United Nations. And although I haven’t included Bill Gates on that list in the past, he definitely belongs there for his huge bequest to his own foundation. (And also for the spineless way he responded to the government’s antitrust suit against Microsoft back in 1998. If it had been my company, I would have transplanted it to a friendlier clime — and paid for the move with just a couple of years’ tax savings.)
My guess is that despite his intelligence, expertise, and generally affable, self-deprecating manner, Buffett is profoundly misanthropic. Like Gates, Buffett has a classic anticapitalistic, limousine-liberal mentality toward money. He says imbecilic things like, "The market system has not worked in terms of poor people" (on a recent "Charlie Rose" show). That matches Bill’s incredibly hackneyed and politically correct press conference statement: "We really owe it to society to give back." No, you idiot savant, society — which is largely composed of nonentities who produce no more than they need to survive personally (if that) — owes you a huge debt for your work with computers. I’m just sorry you’re not actually worthy.
Many people of great wealth seem uncomfortable with money, a feeling which perhaps underlies their pathological urge to hand it over to the undeserving. Andrew Carnegie was another sufferer: "A man who dies wealthy, dies disgraced." Discomfort with wealth is among the many reasons the Orient will overwhelm the West in the next few generations. Buffett’s and Gates’ grandchildren may be working as maids and houseboys for the Chinese. A rich Chinese wouldn’t dream of leaving his money to a charity, to be dissipated by the do-gooders, world-improvers, socialites, and socialists who almost invariably infest the board of charities.
A Chinese billionaire in Hong Kong will leave his entire fortune, tax free, to his kids. Unless he plans early and well, an American billionaire will leave his children only half, after taxes. Or much less after our sick ethos of giving draws off a large portion to politically correct charity. So the next generation of Chinese will start out with perhaps three or four times the capital of their American counterparts whose parents had the same assets. And unburdened by either income taxes or idiotic American attitudes towards money, they will make it grow much, much faster.
But it goes far beyond that. Accumulation itself is benefaction. The accumulation of capital, no matter who owns it, adds to the demand for everyone’s labor, and so enriches everyone who can get out of bed. Giving, on the other hand, is a tricky business. It can easily result in waste or in actual harm. From mankind’s point of view, if not from Tiny Tim’s, Scrooge was a more efficient benefactor before the ghostly visits than after.
Buffett says he doesn’t want to reinforce the power of those who are simply "members of the lucky sperm club." But the solution is not to exclude people from the lucky sperm club by perversely disinheriting them, but to help enrich society by making ever more people members of it.
I deplore Buffett’s intellectual dishonesty. While tax avoidance is one reason he likes to hold investments "forever," he’s philosophically a great believer in taxes. It’s hard to respect his hypocrisy. But I do respect his ability to recognize his own mortality. I also respect that he’s obviously not attached to his wealth, and that he’s actively chosen its recipient. He sees that Bill and Melinda will likely outlive him by 20 years or more, and knows that, at least while they’re alive, his money probably won’t be frittered on the embarrassing and dishonest hornswoggles initiated mainly for the aggrandizement of foundation trustees — the fate of almost all left-to-charity fortunes great and small. Instead, his money will be blown on nonproductive Band-Aids applied to people who will just get used to having Band-Aids provided for them.