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I nterestingly , neither Gates nor Buffett seems motiv ated by the possibility of being rewarded in heav en for
his good deeds on earth. Gates told a T ime interv iewer, “T here’s a lot more I could be doing on a Sunday
morning” than going to church. Put them together with Andrew Carnegie, famous for his freethinking, and
three of the four greatest American philanthropists hav e been atheists or agnostics. (T he ex ception is John
D. Rockefeller.) I n a country in which 96 percent of the population say they believ e in a supreme being,
that’s a striking fact. I t means that in one sense, Gates and Buffett are probably less self- interested in their
charity than someone like Mother T eresa, who as a pious Roman Catholic believ ed in reward and
punishment in the afterlife.
More important than questions about motiv es are questions about whether there is an obligation for the
rich to giv e, and if so, how much they should giv e. A few y ears ago, an African- American cabdriv er taking
me to the I nter- American Dev elopment Bank in Washington asked me if I worked at the bank. I told him I
did not but was speaking at a conference on dev elopment and aid. He then assumed that I was an
economist, but when I said no, my training was in philosophy , he asked me if I thought the U.S. should giv e
foreign aid. When I answered affirmativ ely , he replied that the gov ernment shouldn’t tax people in order to
giv e their money to others. T hat, he thought, was robbery . When I asked if he believ ed that the rich should
v oluntarily donate some of what they earn to the poor, he said that if someone had worked for his money ,
he wasn’t going to tell him what to do with it.
At that point we reached our destination. Had the journey continued, I might hav e tried to persuade him
that people can earn large amounts only when they liv e under fav orable social circumstances, and that they
don’t create those circumstances by themselv es. I could hav e quoted Warren Buffett’s acknowledgment
w w w .ny times .c om/2006/12/17/magaz ine/17c har ity .t.html?_r =0&pagew anted=pr int 3/10 Sho1/l14a1Billionair e Giv e – and What Should You? - New Yor k Times
ud / 3 that society is responsible for much of his wealth. “I f y ou stick me down in the middle of Bangladesh or
Peru,” he said, “y ou’ll find out how much this talent is going to produce in the wrong kind of soil.” T he Nobel
Prize- winning economist and social scientist Herbert Simon estimated that “social capital” is responsible for
at least 90 percent of what people earn in wealthy societies like those of the United States or northwestern
Europe. By social capital Simon meant not only natural resources but, more important, the technology and
organizational skills in the community , and the presence of good gov ernment. T hese are the foundation on
which the rich can begin their work. “On moral grounds,” Simon added, “we could argue for a flat income
tax of 90 percent.” Simon was not, of course, adv ocat...
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This homework help was uploaded on 03/04/2014 for the course PPOL 4770 taught by Professor Martin during the Spring '11 term at UVA.
- Spring '11