How to fix the billionaires' "Giving Pledge."

Scrutinizing culture.
Aug. 18 2010 2:28 PM

How To Fix the Billionaires' "Giving Pledge"

Show us the money—and put it to work now!

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"They wouldn't have to give away a cent," Sachs told me. "They could just put half their assets into an interest-bearing trust." He's done the math. "That would be $2.1 trillion, and 5 percent payment on that would be $105 billion a year. That would do the job. Actually, that would be quite good."

"Are you serious?" I asked.

"I'm getting ready to go door-to-door," he said, at least half-seriously. I liked the idea myself. After all, the free market hadn't worked, socialism hadn't worked. Sally Struthers hadn't worked. Nothing else had worked.

Alas, this conversation took place shortly before the Crash of '08. Then the economy collapsed and the number of billionaires tumbled, and the last time I talked to Sachs he said even this final fantasy of poverty eradication would be unlikely to fund the goal of  making the bottom billion sustainable all at once. The ball was back in Sally Struthers' court.

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And now it's back in Gates' and Buffett's. Three years have passed and a certain segment of the economy has experienced a recovery. According to Forbes' 2010 accounting of the world's billionaires they're coming back, even if we aren't. It's springtime for billionaires. At a press conference this year Steve Forbes said:

"The number of billionaires has gone from 793 last year to 1,011 this year, almost to where it was [in] the record level of 2008… The overall net worth of these billionaires is $3.6 trillion, up from $2.4 trillion just a year ago—a 50 percent increase."

True, things aren't quite back up to the $4.2 trillion Sachs had in mind when he first spoke of the fantasy, and interest rates are down. But I suspect that if we allow some semi-demi-hemi billionaires, you know, $500 million-plus types, into the super exclusive billionaire's pledge club with the three or four dinners a year with Buffett and Gates, we could get the figure sufficiently inflated to get Sachs the cash he needs and allow him to direct it to the places it's most needed in the ways that will be most effectual. Sure, it's top down, but people are dying now in the bottom billion, so let's not be so punctilious.

More than that, the "Giving Pledgers" would actually have to produce the cash, not just pledge half of some figure they wish they had. I bet we'd see the shakeout of a lot of fake billionaires, but there would also be a lot of others who stepped up, if we put the pressure on.

Those who don't take the Pledge for the Gates/Buffett/Sachs/Rosenbaum plan (I know I contributed nothing but my name and this publicity) would be liable to find their yachts spray-painted with Big Golden "G"'s for Greedhead. 

We wouldn't give the holdouts a moment's peace.

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