... but I stopped. Now I'm a dad, and may blog again...

Friday, August 13, 2010

Block Chop 22: Billions of dollars

Warren Buffett and Bill Gates are among the richest men on Earth.  They currently hold third and second place respectively, first place being held by Mexican businessman Carlos Slim.

Warren Buffett is the notoriously frugal head of investment company Berkshire Hathaway which has an annual turnover of $112.5 billion US.  He owns massive amounts of shares in many well-known brands and companies including Coca-Cola, American Express, Fruit of the Loom, GEICO (US car insurance company), and loads more.  He is well known for the small scale, basic nature of his operation.  His company offices are small with a minimal staff.  Apart from a private jet he lives a fairly simple life, frequenting a local family steak restaurant; his private office doesn’t even have a computer, just box files and filing cabinets.  The Berkshire Hathaway website is basic beyond belief.

His riches are not built on clever inventions or financial trickery, but simply on an ability to spot when shares are priced below their potential value.  His life is truly a lesson in honesty and traditionalism, for the young cocaine fuelled “buy, sell, sell, buy” twats currently destroying our economy.  In Fortune magazine recently he wrote about the lucky combinations that brought about his success.

My wealth has come from a combination of living in America, some lucky genes, and compound interest. Both my children and I won what I call the ovarian lottery. (For starters, the odds against my 1930 birth taking place in the U.S. were at least 30 to 1. My being male and white also removed huge obstacles that a majority of Americans then faced.)
My luck was accentuated by my living in a market system that sometimes produces distorted results, though overall it serves our country well. I've worked in an economy that rewards someone who saves the lives of others on a battlefield with a medal, rewards a great teacher with thank-you notes from parents, but rewards those who can detect the mispricing of securities with sums reaching into the billions. In short, fate's distribution of long straws is wildly capricious.
Bill Gates, America’s most recognisable billionaire, is founder and chairman of Microsoft.  Thank you Bill for Office and the X-box.  Despite accusations of being anti-competition and occasional problems with crappy software, Microsoft continues to be successful by releasing decent, recognisable and easy to use products.  Windows changed the world, by making computers easy to use for everyone.  Gates is a hero (or an object of jealousy) to geeks everywhere with desires to take over the world.

Bill and his wife Melinda are well known for their philanthropy.  Together they founded the creatively-named Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  Along with Warren Buffett they are using their vast wealth for good.

Now I have no pretence to understanding the minds and motivations of multi-billionaires.  I don’t know if they became so rich through talent, luck, OCD or ruthless psychopathic greed.  I don’t know if they have ulterior motives for public charity work.  But I do know that the Foundation operates openly, and that individuals and organisations should be judged by their actions, and as a result it is my opinion that they are good, positively motivated people.

I do not buy into the very British automatic hatred for anyone successful or rich.  And I definitely don’t agree with the principals of Communism; people should be financially rewarded for their own effort and good fortune.  Buffett and the Gates’ have been rewarded more than most people could even dream of.  How would I cope with that much money?  I literally have no idea.  I don’t know if I would even recognisably be the same person.  I like to think I would lead a fulfilling charitable life, without a wasted moment, but equally it might tip me over into drunken insanity and wild uncontrollable spending.

The Gates Foundation is dedicated to helping combat poverty, ignorance and disease across the world.  They aim to make vaccination available to everyone, including the eradication of polio.  They fund research into curing HIV.  The list goes on and on.

Unlike that twat Bono, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates seem to be prepared to put their money where their mouths are.  Not happy with asking us for money, while sitting on their own private fortunes, they are pledging massive amounts of their own wealth to charity.  Buffett has pledge to give 5% of Berkshire Hathaway shares to the foundation every year, totalling $30 billion.  Overall he is gradually giving away 99% of his fortune to various charitable foundations, and claims this will not affect his personal spending habits.  The Gates give loads of time and money to the foundation, but even more amazing is the amount of money they have raised.  Their efforts have convinced 40 American billionaires to pledge at least 50% of their wealth totalling more than $125 billion.  And this from a country that notoriously hates the idea of redistribution of wealth.  The aim is to get all 400 names listed on the Forbes rich list to give half of their money.  This would amount to $600 billion.  Read more about the $600 billion challenge here.

Hopefully billionaires from around the world will take up the challenge, and hopefully the donations will not come under the control of anyone who will misuse it.  Hopefully this is the start of massive improvements in world health and education.  Hopefully the money will not be used for religious proselytising.  Hopefully if I am ever fortunate to possess riches, I will use them positively.  I'd like to be able to give money to Doctors Without Borders (Medicins San Frontieres); hopefully one day I will.  Don't forget to donate to The Christie here.

P.S. Happy Birthday Robbie.

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