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What Should a Billionaire Give and What Should You?

On Kenny Simpson's blog a few commenters were sniping at Bono for nagging at us to do something about AIDS in Africa and someone said:

Bono is a good person, but easy to send several million when you make much more than that.

I assume that the vast majority of us of Christians give a significant fraction of our income to charity, but nevertheless we give less to others (e.g., the poor and needy), usually much less, than than the maximum amount we could give. I guess I'm OK with that, but I wonder what the justification for that practice is in general given what we know Jesus said (to the rich young ruler, for example) and how the first Christians shared liberally to meet needs. I give a certain amount. I could give more. I could give less. How should I decide how much to give? Take the time to read this lengthy but very interesting article (via Slate's In Other Magazines column) of the same title as this blog post by Peter Singer in the NY Times magazine. A few highlights (but, really, read the whole thing):

For Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, the ideal of valuing all human life equally began to jar against reality some years ago, when he read an article about diseases in the developing world and came across the statistic that half a million children die every year from rotavirus, the most common cause of severe diarrhea in children. He had never heard of rotavirus. "How could I never have heard of something that kills half a million children every year?" he asked himself. He then learned that in developing countries, millions of children die from diseases that have been eliminated, or virtually eliminated, in the United States. That shocked him because he assumed that, if there are vaccines and treatments that could save lives, governments would be doing everything possible to get them to the people who need them. As Gates told a meeting of the World Health Assembly in Geneva last year, he and his wife, Melinda, "couldn't escape the brutal conclusion that - in our world today - some lives are seen as worth saving and others are not." They said to themselves, "This can't be true." But they knew it was. Gates's speech to the World Health Assembly concluded on an optimistic note, looking forward to the next decade when "people will finally accept that the death of a child in the developing world is just as tragic as the death of a child in the developed world." That belief in the equal value of all human life is also prominent on the Web site of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, where under Our Values we read: "All lives - no matter where they are being led - have equal value." We are very far from acting in accordance with that belief. In the same world in which more than a billion people live at a level of affluence never previously known, roughly a billion other people struggle to survive on the purchasing power equivalent of less than one U.S. dollar per day. Most of the world's poorest people are undernourished, lack access to safe drinking water or even the most basic health services and cannot send their children to school. According to Unicef, more than 10 million children die every year - about 30,000 per day - from avoidable, poverty-related causes.

Interestingly, neither Gates nor Buffett seems motivated by the possibility of being rewarded in heaven for his good deeds on earth. Gates told a Time interviewer, "There's a lot more I could be doing on a Sunday morning" than going to church. Put them together with Andrew Carnegie, famous for his freethinking, and three of the four greatest American philanthropists have been atheists or agnostics. (The exception is John D. Rockefeller.) In a country in which 96 percent of the population say they believe in a supreme being, that's a striking fact.

In an article I wrote more than three decades ago, at the time of a humanitarian emergency in what is now Bangladesh, I used the example of walking by a shallow pond and seeing a small child who has fallen in and appears to be in danger of drowning. Even though we did nothing to cause the child to fall into the pond, almost everyone agrees that if we can save the child at minimal inconvenience or trouble to ourselves, we ought to do so. Anything else would be callous, indecent and, in a word, wrong. The fact that in rescuing the child we may, for example, ruin a new pair of shoes is not a good reason for allowing the child to drown. Similarly if for the cost of a pair of shoes we can contribute to a health program in a developing country that stands a good chance of saving the life of a child, we ought to do so.

The rich, then, should give. But how much should they give? Gates may have given away nearly $30 billion, but that still leaves him sitting at the top of the Forbes list of the richest Americans, with $53 billion. His 66,000-square-foot high-tech lakeside estate near Seattle is reportedly worth more than $100 million. Property taxes are about $1 million. Among his possessions is the Leicester Codex, the only handwritten book by Leonardo da Vinci still in private hands, for which he paid $30.8 million in 1994. Has Bill Gates done enough? More pointedly, you might ask: if he really believes that all lives have equal value, what is he doing living in such an expensive house and owning a Leonardo Codex? Are there no more lives that could be saved by living more modestly and adding the money thus saved to the amount he has already given?

Is there a line of moral adequacy that falls between the 5 percent that Allen has given away and the roughly 35 percent that Gates has donated? Few people have set a personal example that would allow them to tell Gates that he has not given enough, but one who could is Zell Kravinsky. A few years ago, when he was in his mid-40s, Kravinsky gave almost all of his $45 million real estate fortune to health-related charities, retaining only his modest family home in Jenkintown, near Philadelphia, and enough to meet his family's ordinary expenses. After learning that thousands of people with failing kidneys die each year while waiting for a transplant, he contacted a Philadelphia hospital and donated one of his kidneys to a complete stranger.

For first time, unmarried households reign in U.S.

From an article of the same title by Maxim Kniazkov in USA Today:

It is by no means dead, but for the first time, a survey has shown that traditional marriage has ceased to be the preferred living arrangement in the majority of U.S. households. The shift, reported by the U.S. Census Bureau in its 2005 American Community Survey, could herald a sea change in every facet of American life - from family law to national politics and its current emphasis on family values. The findings, which were released in August but largely escaped public attention until now because of the large volume of data, indicated that marriage did not figure in nearly 55.8 million American family households, or 50.2%. More than 14 million of them were headed by single women, another five million by single men, while 36.7 million belonged to a category described as "nonfamily households," a term that experts said referred primarily to gay or heterosexual couples cohabiting out of formal wedlock. In addition, there were more than 30 million unmarried men and women living alone, who are not categorized as families, the Census Bureau reported.

Hit with the question: Were you spanked? CEOs say yes

Spanking. Though we'd certainly rather not, we resort to it from time to time because sometimes nothing else works. It's not because we want to raise a CEO. Via's Today's Papers column, from an article of the same title by Del Jones in USA Today:

The debate over whether CEOs are born or made remains unresolved, but there is one thing they overwhelmingly have in common. As children, they were paddled, belted, switched or swatted. Child psychologists wince at such a finding. They warn that spanking slows mental development and hinders achievement. They say the last thing parents need in the back of their minds is a suggestion or justification that the rod is the road to vision, ruthless drive and other leadership traits common to CEOs. But USA TODAY interviewed about 20 CEOs over three months and, while none said they were abused, neither were any spared… University of New Hampshire sociology professor Murray Straus, author of Beating the Devil Out of Them, has been studying corporal punishment since 1969 and says it comes as no surprise that almost every CEO was spanked. They mostly grew up in the 1950s and 1960s. Although the systematic use of corporal punishment has declined steadily, 90% of toddlers are still spanked at least once, he says, and a 1998 Gallup Poll found that 55% of parents agreed with the statement "A good hard spanking is sometimes necessary." But Straus says evidence points to corporal punishment as detrimental. If some spanked children grow up to be successful, even billionaires, it's like saying, go ahead and smoke because two-thirds of smokers don't get lung cancer, he said. "We don't allow any other humans to be legally hit," says Nadine Block, executive director of the Center for Effective Discipline.

"Son, if you don't do what I say, I'm going to make you a CEO."

Wal-Mart to Add Wage Caps and Part-Timers

From an article of the same title by Steven Greenhouse and Michael Barbaro in the NY Times:

Wal-Mart, the nation's largest private employer, is pushing to create a cheaper, more flexible work force by capping wages, using more part-time workers and scheduling more workers on nights and weekends. Wal-Mart executives say they have embraced new policies for a large number of their 1.3 million workers to better serve their customers, especially at busy shopping times - and point out that competitors like Sears and Target have made some of these moves, too. But some Wal-Mart workers say the changes are further reducing their already modest incomes and putting a serious strain on their child-rearing and personal lives. Current and former Wal-Mart workers say some managers have insisted that they make themselves available around the clock, and assert that the company is making changes with an eye to forcing out longtime higher-wage workers to make way for lower-wage part-time employees. Investment analysts and store managers say Wal-Mart executives have told them the company wants to transform its work force to 40 percent part-time from 20 percent. Wal-Mart denies it has a goal of 40 percent part-time workers, although company officials say that part-timers now make up 25 percent to 30 percent of workers, up from 20 percent last October.

Here's a link to an article that argues that Target may be "as bad as Wal-Mart".

Welfare Queens on Tractors

Via the August 18, 2006, issue of The Week, from an op-ed piece in the LA Times by Jonah Goldberg:

There are few issues for which the political consensus is so distant from both common sense and expert opinion. Right-wing economists, left-wing environmentalists and almost anybody in-between who doesn't receive a check from the Department of Agriculture or depend on a political donation from said recipients understand that Americans are spending billions to prop up the last of the horse-and-buggy industries. At this nation's founding, nearly nine out of 10 workers were employed in agriculture. By 1900 that fell to fewer than four in 10. Today, fewer than one in every 100 workers is in agriculture, and less than 1% of gross domestic product is attributable to agriculture. Yet this country spends billions upon billions of dollars subsidizing a system that makes almost everyone in the world worse off. Our system is so complicated - i.e. rigged - that it's almost impossible to know how much agricultural subsidies cost U.S. taxpayers. But we know from the Washington Post's recent reporting that since 2000 the U.S. government paid out $1.3 billion to "farmers" who don't farm. They were simply "compensated" for owning land previously used for farming. A Houston surgeon received nearly $500,000 to alleviate his hardship. Cash payments have cost $172 billion over the last decade, and $25 billion in 2005 alone, nearly 50% more than what was paid to families receiving welfare. But those sorts of numbers barely tell the story of our appallingly immoral agricultural corporatism. Subsidies combined with trade barriers (another term for subsidy) prop up the price of food for consumers at home and hurt farmers abroad. This is repugnant because agriculture is a keystone industry for developing nations and a luxury for developed ones. This keeps Third World nations impoverished, economically dependent and politically unstable. Our farm subsidies alone - forget trade barriers - cost developing countries $24 billion every year, according to the National Center for Policy Analysis. Letting poor nations prosper would be worth a lot more than the equivalent amount in foreign aid. But Big Agriculture likes foreign aid because it allows for the dumping of wheat and other crops on the world market, which perpetuates the cycle of dependency. Then, of course, there's the environment. Subsidies wreak havoc on the ecosystem... There's a lot of romance about the family farm in this country. But that's what it is: romance. Most of the Welfare Kings are rich men - buffalo farmer and CNN founder Ted Turner is one of the biggest. Of course, there are small farmers out there, but they have no more right to live off the government teat than the corner bakery I so loved as a child but that couldn't keep up with the times. We don't have a political system addicted to keeping bakers rich.


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