Do Billionaires Have a Responsibility to all Americans?

Do Billionaires Have a Responsibility to all Americans?


Unlike most today, in our nation’s past the wealthiest businessmen were concerned about social needs. They believed their wealth was a gift and should be used for the improvement of every man’s life. In 1910 Andrew Carnegie spoke of income inequality. He had a solution. He said that the formula to eliminate the unequal distribution of wealth between rich and poor Americans could be accomplished by business magnates. He said that they should use the knowledge and successful business practices they have mastered for the betterment of all Americans. He believed that everyone should have access to the fine arts, a good education, and the construction of libraries.

Today a limited number of billionaires have pledged to give their money away to those in need. In 2010 Bill Gates and Warren Buffett created the ‘Giving Pledge.’ Since then other billionaires have joined them to ‘do good’ in their lifetimes.

Unfortunately, they are the exception to the rule. All Americans are aware, or should be aware, that the third and fourth richest men in the United States are the Koch brothers. They have the opposite approach. They attempt to buy elections which would ultimately increase their wealth.

The Walton family, owners of the largest retailer in the world, Wal-Mart, created a foundation. The Walton Family Foundation has assets of nearly two billion dollars. Little of it comes directly from the four second generation owners. In their lifetime, Rob, Jim, Alice, and Christy Walton have contributed $58.49 million. The majority of funding for their foundation comes from trust avoiding funds created by the late Sam, Helen, and John Walton.

If Andrew Carnegie was alive today, he would be appalled at the increasing gap between the wealthiest Americans, and the working class and poor. His vision is not comprehensible to today’s one-percent. They spend more money on lobbyists than for social programs or charities.

All of America’s wealthiest give to charities; they in-turn receive tax deductions. Charities are unable to address the needs of a growing number of poor and lower middle class Americans. Government must address this growing situation and be part of the solution instead of the largest problem.

In a civilized society social programs are not only necessary but mandatory if a nation is to survive. If the United States can find the funds necessary to wage a war in the Middle East, it can, and should, find a way to win the battle in the war on poverty; and the money should be equal to the cost of military action.

There are examples of our government’s lack of concern for America’s increasing blight.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, Republican from Wisconsin, claims that government should not assist the nation’s poorest citizens; help should arrive thru faith based institutions and charities.

Representative Doug LaMalfa, Republican from California was speaking with the House Agriculture Committee. He also stated that it was better to help the poor through the auspices of churches because ‘it comes from the heart.’ What LaMalfa failed to tell the committee is that his farming family has received more than five million dollars in federal crop subsidies. His opinion regarding all aid to the poor coming from faith-based organizations is unrealistic.

There is an additional problem with charitable organizations. The cost of running large facilities focused towards helping the poor is prohibitive. It is not unusual that 60 percent of donations are absorbed by administrative costs and salaries.

Our representatives in government claim to be church goers. Whether that is true or not depends on where the cameras are. If they are as they maintain, devout Christians, they should ask themselves an honest question about aid for the poor and low-income families: “What would Christ do?” I don’ think they would approve of the answer; remember what he apparently did to the money-changers in the temple.

Editorial by James Turnage


Al Jazeera America

L A Times


Photo courtesy of Warren Buffett & Bill Gates – Bridge @ Borsheims 2007

Flickr License