Monday, June 26, 2006

More Atheist Philanthropy: Warren Buffett

Looks like we'll soon be able to say that the two largest philanthropists in the world are atheists. (To be fair, they're also the two wealthiest people in the world.)

Warren Buffett gives away his fortune.

The world's second richest man... will start giving away 85% of his wealth in July - most of it to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

...

Buffett has pledged to gradually give 85% of his Berkshire stock to five foundations. A dominant five-sixths of the shares will go to the world's largest philanthropic organization, the $30 billion Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, whose principals are close friends of Buffett's (a connection that began in 1991, when a mutual friend introduced Buffett and Bill Gates).

The Gateses credit Buffett, says Bill, with having "inspired" their thinking about giving money back to society. Their foundation's activities, internationally famous, are focused on world health -- fighting such diseases as malaria, HIV/AIDS, and tuberculosis -- and on improving U.S. libraries and high schools.

Up to now, the two Gateses have been the only trustees of their foundation. But as his plan gets underway, Buffett will be joining them. Bill Gates says he and his wife are "thrilled" by that and by knowing that Buffett's money will allow the foundation to "both deepen and accelerate" its work. "The generosity and trust Warren has shown," Gates adds, "is incredible." Beginning in July and continuing every year, Buffett will give a set, annually declining number of Berkshire B shares - starting with 602,500 in 2006 and then decreasing by 5% per year - to the five foundations. The gifts to the Gates foundation will be made either by Buffett or through his estate as long as at least one of the pair -- Bill, now 50, or Melinda, 41 -- is active in it.

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The other foundation gifts that Buffett is making will also occur annually and start in July. At Berkshire's current price, the combined 2006 total of these gifts will be $315 million. The contributions will go to foundations headed by Buffett's three children, Susan, Howard, and Peter, and to the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation.

This last foundation was for 40 years known simply as the Buffett Foundation and was recently renamed in honor of Buffett's late wife, Susie, who died in 2004, at 72, after a stroke. Her will bestows about $2.5 billion on the foundation, to which her husband's gifts will be added. The foundation has mainly focused on reproductive health, family planning, and pro-choice causes, and on preventing the spread of nuclear weapons.

...

Because the value of Buffett's gifts are tied to a future, unknowable price of Berkshire, there is no way to put a total dollar value on them. But the number of shares earmarked to be given have a huge value today: $37 billion.

That alone would be the largest philanthropic gift in history.
And if Buffett is right in thinking that Berkshire's price will trend upward, the eventual amount given could far exceed that figure.
(via Slashdot.)


Buffett's atheism:
"He did not subscribe to his family's religion. Even at a young age he was too mathematical, too logical, to make the leap of faith. He adopted his father's ethical underpinnings, but not his belief in an unseen divinity."
--from Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist, by Roger Lowenstein (Doubleday, 1995), page 13. (Via Celebrity Atheist List.)

14 comments:

J said...

Gates has given large sums of money to the Discovery Insitute, the paradigm of the Intelligent Design movement. See here http://www.gatesfoundation.org/PacificNorthwest/Grants/Grant-29490.htm . Although to be fair it's for development of transportation in the Pacific Northwest. Although I'd be suspicious of anyone who donates any money to them

Ezzie said...

Out of curiousity, do atheists or religious people generally give a higher percentage of their wealth to charity? I'm guessing religious, because I've heard that, but perhaps you know...

Jewish Atheist said...

J:

That's weird, but it sounds like it's a reasonable cause.


ezzie:

I'd like to know that too, but I've never been able to find good statistics on it. I'd also like to be able to separate giving to the poor and needy from giving to the church/kollel/whatever.

Some Guy said...

I wish I had money too. I would buy a Scion xB! It's boxy!

(No, this is not spam. This is a deep philosophical reflection.)

Random said...

"Looks like we'll soon be able to say that the two largest philanthropists in the world are atheists."

Actually according to the site you link to Gates is an agnostic, not an atheist. It's also obvious from the quote you give that Buffett's charitable urges owe a great deal to the ethics he acquired from his religious upbringing, even if he rejected the supernatural elements thereof.

Atheism gets a partial credit at best, in other words:-)

Jewish Atheist said...

Random:

Ah, I stand corrected on Gates. It does seem like he's an agnostic. I'll settle for "Looks like we'll soon be able to say that the two largest philanthropists in the world are non-believers." :-)

It's also obvious from the quote you give that Buffett's charitable urges owe a great deal to the ethics he acquired from his religious upbringing, even if he rejected the supernatural elements thereof.

And if he had been raised by atheists, you'd argue that he owes a great deal to the Christian country he was raised in. :-) There just aren't enough people raised in atheistic societies that don't have their own problems (e.g. totalitarianism) to find good test cases.

Random said...

"And if he had been raised by atheists, you'd argue that he owes a great deal to the Christian country he was raised in. :-)"

I hope not, but I can't deny it's an excuse:-)

"There just aren't enough people raised in atheistic societies that don't have their own problems (e.g. totalitarianism) to find good test cases."

This is actually a good point. It may be worth keeping an eye on the new generation of millionaires (there are more every year) coming out of China to see what they do with their money to get a good answer to this question.

Shlomo said...

Maybe Mr. Buffett is a truly nice guy and his lack of faith has NOTHING to do with his altruism.

Funny that the true believers in the Invisible Sky fairy and his horny prophets are so willing to give themselves credit for ALL the good things done by anyone but will never take the blame when even their own commit heinous acts.

Mr. Buffett nad Mr. Gates oppose the repeal of the estate tax. Two fine examples of wealth wihtout selfishness or condescension.

Mr. Grouchypants said...

So what percentage of the Gates and Buffett estates do you think will go to the government in taxes when they die?

Anonymous said...

"It's also obvious from the quote you give that Buffett's charitable urges owe a great deal to the ethics he acquired from his religious upbringing, even if he rejected the supernatural elements thereof."

Ummm yeah? Why do religious people always assume/believe that you have to buy the whole enchilada? Because it is all about control and "submitting" and obeying the church. This is reflected in the comment - OF COURSE he can reject the supernatural fairy tale part of the dogma and still be a good person! No one says that you can't acquire good ethics by being religious - but you don't HAVE to believe the crazy stuff to recognize the good ethics (which are, of course, very similar in most cases to good ethics in OTHER religions and in humanist ethics.) So... YES, he learned the ethics from his father, who was a religious man. No one says that a religious person cannot be a good person - if he learned from an atheist family you'd argue that religion got to him some other way. I know some great, giving religious folks - and see the same traits in just as many agnostics and atheists. I also see some pretty unethical behavior in supposedly religious people - people who follow religious rules but not the spirit of the ethics.

Which brings up another point - the good ethics are separated out by good religious folk from the crazy killing and horrible rules (stoning, anyone? It's REQUIRED if you question the Word, right?) - these people make judgment on the "bad" parts of the bible or Koran, but argue that it is the bible's teachings that are required to have good ethics. But then, what internal "ethics barometer" are they using to decide what parts of bible are across the line? That you should not murder your kids for minor transgressions, or stone your neighbor? The same internal ethics barometer we all have.


I think religion is a cop-out for most people - people who do bad things knowing that they can just ask God for forgiveness and everything's okay - "sorry, God, forgive me for striking my wife." Well, I think people should ask forgiveness from the people they harm - their spouses, their kids, communities, and society - and not be able to skirt this responsibility by going to anonymous "confession."

I think people would value and enjoy their lives - and make more of them, if they really knew how precious their time here is, rather than looking at it as a temporary stop before eternal heaven.

What if this is IT? Then it is beautiful... maybe THIS is heaven and hell all in one place. And so many people are just coasting through the show, waiting for their real salvation, and not making the difference they could make while alive here- as one of billions of winners of the super-mega-ultra lotto of life by being born in the first place, a result of a series of conceptions that created all of their descendents and eventually them - each a billion to one shot in itself. THAT'S the miracle. Celebrate! Be in awe. Someday, you'll die. Don't waste it! How AWESOME.

I am a huge Buffett fan - I only regret that reasonable, smart free-thinkers like him choose NOT to run for President.

Go Buffett! Go Obama!

Anonymous said...

I understand that Buffett made his giveaway for tax reasons, not for some kind of great altruism. Apparently because of the size of his wealth, much of it would be forfeited to tax payments after his death anyway. So he saw it better to give away to charities rather than give it to the government. No big deal. Buffett is not some kind of demi-god. He's just a money grubber. Good for him, but I don't think it's some kind of behaviour to emulate.

Anonymous said...

^^^ Good point.

Anonymous said...

Just giving does not grant these two guys a free pass into heaven.Satan wants you to believe you will make the cut,just on good deeds.So many forget the other side of the coin,you have to believe in your heart God sent his Son Jesus in the form of man to absorb your sins of the world.You do sin,don't you.That what i thought.

Anonymous said...

thanks for share......