This week, while we were all prepping to ring in the New Year, Buzzfeed published a gruff e-mail exchange between late-hedge fund manager Bob Wilson, and Bill Gates.
Gates wanted Wilson to join his ‘Giving Pledge,’ — something Wilson saw more as a social club for the super rich trying to feel good about themselves than an actual useful way to give back.
And since Wilson knew he didn’t need Gates’ pledge to give away almost $US500 million, he saw the invite as a Regina George move to get him over to Gates’ lunch table.
This is how it’s done in billionaire land:
Gates opens his initial letter with a slight name drop — “I’m writing to let you know about an idea we’re calling the “Giving Pledge” that came out of a number of conversations that Melinda and Warren and I have had with a number of people over the past year.”
And then Gates gets to the real point of the pledge, creating a club for like minded givers with events, etc. — “The key benefit of your getting involved in the pledge would be having people learn more from your example both in your pledge letter and your participation in the yearly events.”
In short: On Fridays we wear pink, and it’s really fun.
Now in life, Wilson was not big shaking hands and kissing babies. He was intimidating and direct, demanding and exacting. His curt responses to Gates, however, say as much about Gates and the state of charity among the super rich as they do about Wilson.
From Wilson’s letter:
Your “Giving Pledge” has a loophole that renders it practically worthless, namely permitting pledges to simply name charities in their wills. I have found that most billionaires or near billionaires hate giving large sums of money away while alive and instead set up family-controlled foundations to do it for them after death. And these foundations become, more often than not, bureaucracy-ridden sluggards. These rich are delighted to toss off a few million a year in order to remain socially acceptable. But that’s it.
Wilson also said he wouldn’t have any “fun” with these people anyway. These are the people that buy into what Peter Buffett (Warren’s son) called “The Charitable Industrial Complex,” in a New York Times column last year.
“Philanthropy,” Buffett wrote, “has become the “it” vehicle to level the playing field and has generated a growing number of gatherings, workshops and affinity groups.”
Unfortunately, he argues that these groups exist more to allow the rich to “sleep better at night, while others get just enough to keep the pot from boiling over.”
To Buffett, the family controlled foundations and groups Wilson complained about lack real innovation. They throw money at systems that hurt people, instead of working to change systemic poverty and violence at its root.
This isn’t to say it’s not great to shake hands and kiss babies and show your face at a ‘Giving Pledge’ annual cook-out or something, if that’s your thing, but it wasn’t Wilson’s. And to him, the schmoozing lacked substance. He didn’t need anyone’s help to give away almost the entirety of his $US800 million fortune anyway.
Why should he have to wear pink on Fridays?
So he politely declined Gates’ offer to sit at the ‘Giving Pledge’ table.