Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Have the Trillions Given to Charity Solved Anything?

In a Bloomberg article, Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, the richest man in the world is quoted as saying: "The only way to fight poverty is with employment. Trillions of dollars have been given to charity in the last 50 years, and they don’t solve anything."

 This stands in stark contrast to the stance taken by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, who have challenged other billionaires to give the majority of their fortunes to charity.  They recently complete a trip to China where they challenged Chinese billionaires to give at least half their wealth away.

Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., and Microsoft Corp. cofounder Gates have signed up more than 30 philanthropists, including Larry Ellison and Paul Allen, to their Giving Pledge initiative.

Slim counters: "To give 50 percent, 40 percent, that does nothing. There is a saying that we should leave a better country to our children. But it’s more important to leave better children to our country."

Who do agree with?  Is it better to create jobs than donate to charity?  Is exhibit A in this argument the over $9 trillion spent in the war on poverty that has failed to end poverty?


  1. In the East, the Western notion of giving your wealth away to charity is not exactly embraced. The preference is to pass it on to the heirs. I tend to agree with that.

  2. It looks to me that a couple of concepts are mixed up here. First, to give to worthwhile causes is valuable. I am treasurer of the National Alliance on Mental Illness(NAMI)/Howard County and we fight for funds because we see first hand that much needed support helps individuals and their families get people who were once pushed off to the fringe of society become participating, contributing members of the economy.
    NAMI provides peer to peer counseling as well as family support groups - both of which most people would look past - until their family gets hit with mental illness.
    Many of the wealthy as well as many of us average people drew the lucky cards and we should pause and remember that.
    Giving of course to better healthy people at the low end of the economic spectrum is not in many instances helping them but if biographies are read carefully you'll find that many of the top people today were helped by people who donated resources. Read about Gates in "Outliers". I think Buffett has seen the folly of passing his wealth to his heirs - it just becomes a rich person's food stamps.

  3. Giving is certainly valuable, and I to say that giving has solved nothing seems inaccurate. There are concrete examples where charitable funding has led to better cure rates for diseases (i.e. St. Judes, a charitable research hospital, has a 90% cure rate for ALL; I doubt this would be achievable without those research dollars). There are other examples, but the point is generalizations don't tell the whole picture. With respect to poverty, I will say that it is better to teach a man to fish than to give him fish usually.

  4. Well, I think what Bill Gates has done with immunizations and such has definitely been life changing for many. However, that is much different than just subsidizing food bills.

    I think giving directed toward short term food/housing help is good, along with money going toward education. However, to allow people to perpetually live off the donations of others does nothing.

  5. I am for both. Empowering aid helps, but it's important that recipients don't become dependent on that aid. This is where giving them employment instead of aid, and improving the legal and political structures and increasing access to the markets will go a long way.

  6. Its good to see a differing opinion on charity. This guy knows how to make his money get results. It's the old teach a man to fish idiom. But also I have to agree with the others, that targeted donations to research and infrastructure is needed. We have to do better with our giving. Not just throw money at something. I can't but think that Bill Gates is doing specific targeted giving. He's to cheap to just throw his billions around.

  7. Giving away money weakens the recipient. But educating people (and that also costs money) empowers. So it all depends on how "donated" money is allocated. If it's intended to empower, then it's worthwhile, and will lead to further employment.