My background is finance and accounting. As a socially conscious venture capitalist and philanthropist, I have a very good understanding of wealth management and philanthropy. I started my career in 1967 with the IRS as a specialist in taxation covering many areas of the tax law including the so-called legal loopholes to charitable giving. I have known for years that a smart wealthy person could keep control of all his assets without estate or income taxes through cleverly structured charitable foundations. These foundations are perfectly legal and allow the donors to keep absolute control of all their money and power and accumulate enormous appreciation free of taxation. In 1967, the loopholes were outrageous and the law has tightened some of these tactics for the rich. However, the Gates Buffet foundation grant is nothing more than a shell game in which control of assets for both Gates and Buffet remain the same.
The only difference is that the accumulation of wealth by these two will be much more massive because they will no longer have to pay any taxes.
The Gates Foundation now has about $60 Billion under the control of the wealthiest people in America. They do not have to sell any of their positions in the stocks that they put under the tax-exempt umbrella. Furthermore, they can vote their stock holdings the same as if they did before and they can make the same investment decisions about their considerable corporate holdings. Both Buffet and Gates exhibited the most predatory capitalistic practices as corporate executives and investors. Microsoft and Berkshire Hathaway are not models of socially responsible capitalism. That being said, this foundation will be in the long run richer than the Catholic Church, which has accumulated wealth and power for over 1500 years. However, the results will be exactly the same. They will never liquidate enough of their assets to do any real good for the most onerous problem we have as humans; the worldwide poverty that is caused by the great disparity between the haves and the have-nots.
The Gates Foundation and the Catholic Church have the same goals. They are to keep the legacies for which they were created. For Bill Gates and Warren Buffet it is the control and legacy of family wealth as in the ancient days of the Pharos of Egypt. And by not paying any taxes, Gates will be more powerful than the Pope. I realize that this foundation has done more for disease research and education than any single government institution. But, that is just a condemnation of how little rich countries do for the less fortunate. And the United States is one of the worst examples of how little it does for its own people.
The great problems of the world today are a direct result of the wide disparity between the rich and poor. But, it is hard for the wealthiest to even look at this as an issue of most importance. Catholic Charities do a lot for the poor and I am sure that the Gates Foundation will do a lot for diseases of the poor. But, that is merely a band-aid for one of the symptoms of poverty. The real issue today is poverty.
The governments that keep their people in abject poverty while their leaders are obscenely rich from oil revenues cause many of the problems in the Middle East. But, even the poorest of their people now have access to satellite TV and Internet information that shows these people how much they are being exploited. The simple answer that they hate us for our freedom is absurd. They hate us because they see the wealthy and powerful as the cause of their suffering. As was the case in Germany in the 1920s, even a cultured society can succumb to irrationally violent leaders if they are hungry and poor. It is a human problem that we saw occur in a 1st world country. The 1968 movie, The Shoes of the Fisherman was a fictional account of a new Pope who had the conscience to solve world poverty by giving away all the Church’s assets. Below is a summary of the plot from www.imdb.com.
“After twenty years in a Siberian labor camp, Kiril Lakota, the Metropolitan Archbishop of Lvov, is set free. The Catholic Archbishop is released and sent to Rome, where the ailing Pope makes him a Cardinal. The world is in a state of crisis - a famine in China is exacerbated by United States restrictions on Chinese trade and the ongoing Chinese-Soviet feud. When the Pontiff dies, Lakota finds himself elected Pope. But the new Pope Kiril I is plagued by self-doubt, by his years in prison, and by the strange world he knows so little about. This movie contains extensive information about Catholic faith & practice, as a television news reporter steps in from time-to-time to explain the procedures involved in selecting a new Pope.”
The movie was not great but it did emphasize the point I am making in this piece. Unless wealthy people and governments around the world recognize the threat that poverty has on humanity, our chances of survival are markedly decreased. And unless the major wealth of the world is used to help feed its people, the diseases caused by poverty will never be cured. The prevention of diseases, both physical and mental, caused by hunger and poverty are the real dangers we face. And with all the concentrated wealth, we have the capacity to give everyone enough to survive and still leave the wealthy with plenty of luxuries. If Bill Gates gave $29 Billion away and kept only $1Billion he would still have a wonderful life. If he gave it to Sally Struthers, she could probably feed the world.
Sheldon Drobny is the co-founder of Air America Radio.