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Gospels of Giving for the New Gilded Age | The New Yorker
"Are today’s donor classes solving problems—or creating new ones?"



"
We live, it is often said, in a new Gilded Age—an era of extravagant wealth and almost as extravagant displays of generosity. In the past fifteen years, some thirty thousand private foundations have been created, and the number of donor-advised funds has roughly doubled. The Giving Pledge—signed by Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Michael Bloomberg, Larry Ellison, and more than a hundred and seventy other gazillionaires who have promised to dedicate most of their wealth to philanthropy—is the “Gospel” stripped down and updated. And as the new philanthropies have proliferated so, too, have the critiques.

Anand Giridharadas is a journalist who, in 2011, was named a Henry Crown Fellow of the Aspen Institute. The institute is financed by, among other groups, the Carnegie Corporation, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and the Gates Foundation. The fellowship, according to its Web site, aims to “develop the next generation of community-spirited leaders” by engaging them “in a thought-provoking journey of personal exploration.”

Giridharadas at first found the fellowship to be a pretty sweet deal; it offered free trips to the Rockies and led to invitations from the sorts of people who own Western-themed mansions and fly private jets. After a while, though, he started to feel that something was rotten in the state of Colorado. In 2015, when he was asked to deliver a speech to his fellow-fellows, he used it to condemn what he called “the Aspen Consensus.”

“The Aspen Consensus, in a nutshell, is this,” he said. “The winners of our age must be challenged to do more good. But never, ever tell them to do less harm.” The speech made the Times; people began asking for copies of it; and Giridharadas decided to expand on it. The result is “Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World.” “I hadn’t planned to write a book on this topic, but the topic chose me,” he writes."



"Inside Philanthropy is a Web site devoted to high-end giving; its tagline is “Who’s Funding What, and Why.” David Callahan is the site’s founder and editor. If Giridharadas worries that the super-wealthy just play at changing the world, Callahan worries they’re going at it in earnest.

“An ever larger and richer upper class is amplifying its influence through large-scale giving in an era when it already has too much clout,” he writes in “The Givers: Wealth, Power, and Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age.” “Things are going to get worse, too.”

Part of the problem, according to Callahan, lies in the broad way that philanthropy has been defined. Under the federal tax code, an organization that feeds the hungry can count as a philanthropy, and so can a university where students study the problem of hunger, and so, too, can a think tank devoted to downplaying hunger as a problem. All these qualify as what are known, after the relevant tax-code provision, as 501(c)(3)s, meaning that the contributions they receive are tax deductible, and that the earnings on their endowments are largely tax-free. 501(c)(3)s are prohibited from engaging in partisan activity, but, as “The Givers” convincingly argues, activists on both sides of the ideological divide have developed work-arounds.

As a left-leaning example, Callahan cites Tim Gill, who’s been called “the megadonor behind the L.G.B.T.Q.-rights movement.” A software designer, Gill became rich founding and then selling a company called Quark, and he’s donated more than three hundred million dollars toward promoting L.G.B.T.Q. rights. While some of this has been in the form of straight-up political contributions, much of it has been disbursed by Gill’s tax-exempt foundation, which has financed educational efforts, message testing, and—perhaps most important—legal research. “Without a doubt, we would not be where we are without Tim Gill and the Gill Foundation,” Mary Bonauto, the attorney who argued the 2015 Supreme Court case that legalized gay marriage, told Rolling Stone last year.

On the right, Callahan points to Art Pope, the chairman of a privately held discount-store chain called Variety Wholesalers. Pope has used his wealth to support a network of foundations, based in North Carolina, that advocate for voter-identification—or, if you prefer, voter-suppression—laws. In 2013, pushed by Pope’s network, the North Carolina state legislature enacted a measure requiring residents to present state-issued photo I.D.s at the polls. Then the North Carolina Institute for Constitutional Law—another Pope-funded group—led the effort to block challenges to the measure. (The I.D. law was struck down, in 2016, by a federal appeals court that held it had been “passed with racially discriminatory intent.”)

It is difficult to say what fraction of philanthropic giving goes toward shaping public policy. Callahan estimates that the figure is somewhere around ten billion dollars a year. Such an amount, he says, might not sound huge, but it’s more than the annual contributions made to candidates, parties, and super-pacs combined. The result is doubly undemocratic. For every billion dollars spent on advocacy tricked out as philanthropy, several hundred million dollars in uncaptured taxes are lost to the federal treasury.

“It’s not just that the megaphones operated by 501(c)(3) groups and financed by a sliver of rich donors have gotten louder and louder, making it harder for ordinary citizens to be heard,” Callahan notes. “It’s that these citizens are helping foot the bill.” That both liberals and conservatives are exploiting the tax code is small consolation.

“When it comes to who gets heard in the public square, ordinary citizens can’t begin to compete with an activist donor class,” Callahan writes. “How many very rich people need to care intensely about a cause to finance megaphones that drown out the voices of everyone else?” he asks. “Not many.”"



"
Critiques of “The Gospel of Wealth” didn’t have much impact on Andrew Carnegie. He continued to distribute his fortune, to libraries and museums and universities, until, at the time of his death, in 1919, he had given away some three hundred and fifty million dollars—the equivalent of tens of billions in today’s money. It is hard to imagine that the critiques of the new Carnegies will do much to alter current trend lines.

The Gates Foundation alone, Callahan estimates, will disburse more than a hundred and fifty billion dollars over the next several decades. In just the next twenty years, affluent baby boomers are expected to contribute almost seven trillion dollars to philanthropy. And, the more government spending gets squeezed, the more important nongovernmental spending will become. When congressional Republicans passed their so-called tax-reform bill, they preserved the deduction for charitable contributions even as they capped the deduction for state and local tax payments. Thus, a hundred-million-dollar gift to Harvard will still be fully deductible, while, in many parts of the country, the property taxes paid to support local public schools will not be. It is possible that in the not too distant future philanthropic giving will outstrip federal outlays on non-defense discretionary programs, like education and the arts. This would represent, Callahan notes, a “striking milestone.”

Is that the kind of future we want? As the latest round of critiques makes clear, we probably won’t have much of a say in the matter. The philanthropists will decide, and then it will be left to their foundations to fight it out."
philanthropicindustrialcomplex  charitableindustrialcomplex  2018  elizabethkolbert  charity  philanthropy  inequality  andrewcarnegie  gildedage  inequity  disparity  wealth  inheritance  hughpricehughes  society  williamjewetttucker  patronage  ethics  wealthdistribution  exploitation  billgates  warrenbuffett  michaelbloomberg  larryellison  anandgiridharadas  aspenconsensus  georgesoros  socialentrepreneurship  laurietisch  darrenwalker  change  democracy  henrykravis  billclinton  davidcallahan  power  taxes  thinktanks  nonprofit  activism  timgill  publicpolicy  politics  economics  us  influence  artpope  votersuppression  law  superpacs  donaldtrump  equality  robertreich  nonprofits  capitalism  control 
august 2018 by robertogreco
Mark Zuckerberg and the Rise of Philanthrocapitalism - The New Yorker
"The announcement, on Tuesday, by Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, that, during their lifetimes, they will donate to philanthropic causes roughly ninety-nine per cent of their Facebook stock, which is currently valued at close to forty-five billion dollars, has already prompted a lot of comment, much of it positive. That is understandable. The fact that Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and a number of other billionaires are pledging their fortunes to charity rather than seeking to pass them down to their descendants is already having an impact.

Last year, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which was founded in 2000, dispensed almost four billion dollars in grants. A big slug of this money went toward fighting diseases like H.I.V., malaria, polio, and tuberculosis, which kill millions of people in poor countries. Zuckerberg and Chan have also already donated hundreds of millions of dollars to various causes, including eradicating the Ebola virus. In their latest announcement, which they presented as an open letter to their newborn daughter, on Zuckerberg’s Facebook page, they said that the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the new philanthropic organization that they are setting up, would focus on “advancing human potential and promoting equality.”

It’s not just the size of the donations that the wealthy are making that demands attention, though. Charitable giving on this scale makes modern capitalism, with all of its inequalities and injustices, seem somewhat more defensible. Having created hugely successful companies that have generated almost unimaginable wealth, Zuckerberg, Gates, and Buffett are sending a powerful message to Wall Street hedge-fund managers, Russian oligarchs, European industrialists, Arab oil sheiks, and anybody else who has accumulated a vast fortune: “From those to whom much is given, much is expected.”

Speaking at Harvard in 2007, Gates attributed this quotation to his dying mother. (A slightly different version of it appears in St. Luke’s gospel.) In 2010, Gates and Buffett challenged fellow members of the ultra-rich club to give away at least half of their wealth. Since then, more than a hundred billionaires have signed the “Giving Pledge.” Some of these mega-donors, such as Buffett, are content to let others direct their donations. (In 2006, he signed over much of his fortune to the Gates Foundation.) Increasingly, however, wealthy people are setting up their own philanthropic organizations and pursuing their own causes—a phenomenon that has been called “philanthrocapitalism.”

That is the positive side. It is also worth noting, however, that all of this charitable giving comes at a cost to the taxpayer and, arguably, to the broader democratic process. If Zuckerberg and Chan were to cash in their Facebook stock, rather than setting it aside for charity, they would have to pay capital-gains tax on the proceeds, money that could be used to fund government programs. If they willed their wealth to their descendants, then sizable estate taxes would become due on their deaths. By making charitable donations in the form of stock, they, and their heirs, could escape both of these levies.

The size and timing of the tax benefits to Zuckerberg and Chan are uncertain, but they are likely to be large. In the initial version of this post, based on the open letter Zuckerberg and Chan posted on his Facebook page, and on the opinions of several tax experts, I said that the couple, in donating stock to the new philanthropic organization, would gain immediate tax credits equal to the market value of the stock, some of which could be rolled over into future tax years. Typically, that is what happens when a rich person donates stock to a family foundation or to certain types of L.L.C.s constituted for philanthropic purposes, such as ones owned by family foundations.

On Wednesday, in a follow-up post on Facebook, Zuckerberg provided more details about the couple’s plans. Evidently, the L.L.C. that he and Chan are setting up will not be seeking tax-exempt status. “By using an LLC instead of a traditional foundation, we receive no tax benefit from transferring our shares to the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, but we gain flexibility to execute our mission more effectively,” Zuckerberg wrote. “In fact, if we transferred our shares to a traditional foundation, then we would have received an immediate tax benefit, but by using an LLC we do not.”

Even if the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative doesn’t obtain tax-exempt status, over time its activities will most likely have a big impact on the taxes its founders pay. The I.R.S. treats ordinary L.L.C.s as “pass-through” structures, and shifting financial assets to such entities doesn’t usually generate any immediate credits or liabilities. But whenever the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative issues grants to nonprofit organizations, it will almost certainly do so by donating some of its Facebook stock, and that will generate tax credits for Zuckerberg and Chan equal to the market value of the stock at that time. As the years go by and the Initiative steps up its charitable activities, these credits seem likely to add up to very large sums.

Unlike a regular family foundation, the L.L.C. may also generate some tax liabilities for Zuckerberg and Chan. If it invested in a commercial enterprise, such as an online-learning company, taxes would be owed on any profits the investment generated. And if, as Zuckerberg also pointed out, the L.L.C. sold some of the Facebook shares that he and Chan have donated to it, they would have to pay capital-gains taxes on the proceeds. But since the couple will control the L.L.C., they will be able to decide how it finances itself, and whether it sells any stock.”

If what Zuckerberg is doing were an isolated example, it wouldn’t matter much for over-all tax revenues. But the practice is spreading at a time when the distribution of wealth is getting ever more lopsided, which means the actions of a small number of very rich people can have a bigger impact. In 2012, according to

By transferring almost all of their fortunes to philanthropic organizations, billionaires like Zuckerberg and Gates are placing some very large chunks of wealth permanently outside the reaches of the Internal Revenue Service. That means the country’s tax base shrinks. As yet, I haven’t seen any estimates of the over-all cost to the Treasury, but it’s an issue that can’t be avoided. And it raises the broader question, which the economists Thomas Piketty and Anthony Atkinson, among others, have raised, of whether we need a more comprehensive tax on wealth.

Arguably, there is another issue at stake, too: democracy.

Although organizations like the Gates Foundation portray themselves as apolitical, nonpartisan entities, they aren’t completely removed from politics. Far from it. The Gates Foundation, for example, has been a big financial supporter of charter schools, standardized testing, and the Common Core. (It has also given some money to public schools.) Zuckerberg, too, has also provided a lot of money to charter schools. They featured prominently in his costly and controversial effort to reform the public-school system in Newark, New Jersey, which Dale Russakoff wrote about in the magazine last year. In the letter posted on Facebook, Zuckerberg signalled that he isn’t done with such efforts. “We must participate in policy and advocacy to shape debates,” the letter said. “Many institutions are unwilling to do this, but progress must be supported by movements to be sustainable.”

My intention, here, isn’t to enter the education debate. It is simply to point out what should be obvious: people like Zuckerberg and Gates, by virtue of their philanthropic efforts, can have a much bigger say in determining policy outcomes than ordinary citizens can. (As Matthew Yglesias pointed out on Vox, one of the advantages of registering the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative as an L.L.C. is that it can spend money on political ads.) The more money billionaires give to their charitable foundations, which in most cases remain under their personal control, the more influence they will accumulate. And relatively speaking, anyway, the less influence everybody else will have.

Some Americans—not all of them disciples of Ayn Rand—might say that this is a good thing. I have already cited some of the Gates Foundation’s good works. Isn’t Michael Bloomberg, with his efforts to reform gun laws, promoting the public interest? Isn’t George Soros, through his donations to civil-rights organizations, lining up on the side of the angels? In these two instances, my own answers would be yes and yes; but the broader point stands. The divide between philanthropy and politics is already fuzzy. As the “philanthrocapitalism” movement gets bigger, this line will be increasingly hard to discern.

So by all means, let us praise Zuckerberg and Chan for their generosity. And let us also salute Gates, who started the trend. But contrary to the old saying, this is one gift horse we should look closely in the mouth."

[via: http://hackeducation.com/2015/12/23/trends-business/ ]
philanthrocapitalism  charitableindustrialcomplex  2015  facebook  markzuckerberg  johncassidy  philanthropy  influence  corruption  democracy  power  charity  capitalism  gatesfoundation  taxes  billgates  thomaspiketty  inequality  anthonyatkinson  dalerussakoff  newjersey  education  michaelbloomberg  georgesoros  priscillachan  warrenbuffett  policy  politics  philanthropicindustrialcomplex  control 
december 2015 by robertogreco
Freakonomics » New Freakonomics Radio Podcast: “The Church of ‘Scionology’”
"The family firm: it’s a way of life. And it’s a nice story. But we’ve got a big, hungry economy here, people. “Nice” doesn’t necessarily generate jobs. So when it comes to putting the family scion in charge of a company, here’s what I want to know: What do the numbers say?"

[Transcript: http://www.freakonomics.com/2011/06/03/the-church-of-scionology-full-transcript/ ]

[Related: http://www.freakonomics.com/2011/08/05/if-handing-off-a-family-business-to-the-next-generation-whats-the-key-thing-to-avoid/ ]
freakonomics  inheritance  business  families  generations  us  japan  scionology  franciscopérez-gonzález  antoinetteschoar  vikasmehrotra  yuenglingbeer  anheuser-busch  warrenbuffett  stephendubner  2011  research 
november 2011 by robertogreco
The Blog : How to Lose Readers (Without Even Trying) : Sam Harris
"Many of my critics pretend that they have been entirely self-made…seem to feel responsible for their intellectual gifts…freedom from injury & disease…fact that they were born at a specific moment in history. Many appear to have absolutely no awareness of how lucky one must be to succeed at anything in life, no matter how hard one works. One must be lucky to be able to work. One must be lucky to be intelligent, to not have cerebral palsy, or to not have been bankrupted in middle age by the mortal illness of a spouse.

Many of us have been extraordinarily lucky—& we did not earn it. Many good people have been extraordinarily unlucky—& did not deserve it. & yet I get the distinct sense that if I asked some of my readers why they weren’t born w/ club feet, or orphaned before the age of 5, they would not hesitate to take credit for these accomplishments. There is a stunning lack of insight into the unfolding of human events that passes for moral & economic wisdom in some circles."

[via: http://lukescommonplacebook.tumblr.com/post/9573656199/ ]
culture  economics  policy  money  taxes  politics  samharris  objectivism  libertarianism  luck  unlucky  life  illness  bankruptcy  society  religion  belief  selfishness  wisdom  class  wealth  incomegap  wealthdistribution  warrenbuffett  2011  sharing  socialism  democracy  goodfortune  morality  success 
august 2011 by robertogreco
World of Class Warfare - Warren Buffett vs. Wealthy Conservatives - The Daily Show with Jon Stewart - 08/18/11 - Video Clip | Comedy Central
"Warren Buffett's op-ed is a thoughtful treatise on the advantages the super-wealthy currently enjoy at the hands of the tax code, or to put it another way, "class warfare."<br />
<br />
"World of Class Warfare - The Poor's Free Ride Is Over: The government could raise $700 billion by either taking half of everything earned by the bottom 50% or by raising the marginal tax rate on the top two percent."<br />
<br />
[That's from the second part here: http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/thu-august-18-2011/world-of-class-warfare---the-poor-s-free-ride-is-over ]
classwarfare  humor  dailyshow  jonstewart  warrenbuffett  poverty  us  foxnews  budget  debt  wealthdistribution  wealth  2011  policy  taxes 
august 2011 by robertogreco
Et tu, Mr. Destructo?: Fuck You, Warren Buffett
"Then again, perhaps you've done enough. Negative Nancies might argue that philanthropy is simply the right hand of capitalism, its moral pressure valve, divesting The Super Rich of their guilt over the means by which they hoard wealth, offering the public carefully staged signs of humanity in an otherwise mechanistic and amoral system, but I like to think of it as good folks pitching in.

Perhaps then it's time to return to divesting yourself of your billion-dollar fortune before you die. Funding the charities of your choice affords you a philanthropic immortality, keeping your hand on the levers of power and advancement long after death, while keeping that fortune away from the predatory and anonymizing hands of the American Estate Tax."
warrenbuffett  power  money  capitalism  2011  taxes  taxation  government  philanthropy  via:javierarbona  ethics  elite  lobbying  charitableindustrialcomplex  philanthropicindustrialcomplex  control 
august 2011 by robertogreco
America's Most Exclusive Club - BusinessWeek [I belong to an exclusive club!]
"Not having a cell phone is a way of getting the world to run on your time. A lot of powerful people are already on to this. Warren Buffett doesn't use one. Nor does Mikhail Prokhorov, the 45-year-old Russian billionaire who owns the New Jersey Nets. Tavis Smiley doesn't own one, either.

Smiley, 45, host of a weekly PBS talk show & national radio show, freaked out 2 years ago after realizing he couldn't remember phone numbers or appointments w/out checking his cell. Smiley believes his decision to give up his cell phone has benefited his 75-employee company, The Smiley Group. "At first everybody was complaining that it would be the death of the company. What's actually happened is that they get more conversation with me than they used to." …

These non-cell-phone users don't avoid all modern forms of communication. Many are on Facebook & Twitter, & almost all are besotted by e-mail, which gives them time to insidiously shift the conversation to a moment convenient for them."
mobile  phones  power  time  distraction  attention  2010  cv  twitter  email  technology  interruptions  relationships  convenience  warrenbuffett  mikhailprokhorov  tavissmiley  conversation  presentations  travel 
august 2010 by robertogreco
Warren Buffett - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
"I want to give my kids just enough so that they would feel that they could do anything, but not so much that they would feel like doing nothing."
warrenbuffett  parenting  wealth  children  motivation  freedom  economics 
october 2008 by robertogreco
Op-Ed Contributor - Buy American. I Am. - NYTimes.com
"A simple rule dictates my buying: Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful. And most certainly, fear is now widespread, gripping even seasoned investors. To be sure, investors are right to be wary of highly leveraged entities or businesses in weak competitive positions. But fears regarding the long-term prosperity of the nation’s many sound companies make no sense. These businesses will indeed suffer earnings hiccups, as they always have. But most major companies will be setting new profit records 5, 10 and 20 years from now."
economics  warrenbuffett  stocks  finance  advice  greed  history  crisis  2008  investing 
october 2008 by robertogreco

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