Secret Super Rich Friends

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a philanthrocapitalist!

“The rich are the new superheroes” was one of the “elevator pitches” we developed to promote Philanthrocapitalism. Now, Good Morning America has taken up the idea, even drawing cartoons of what it calls the “Super Rich Friends”, including Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Ted Turner, Michael Bloomberg and David Rockefeller in tights and capes, flying through the air to do good. (Buffett is Batman, Oprah Wonder Woman…)

The inspiration for this was a secret meeting of the Super Rich Friends in New York on May 5th. Reported first, curiously, by the website, it seems the meeting was convened by Gates, Buffett and Rockefeller, to discuss the impact of the economic downturn on philanthropy and how they might as a group rise to the challenge. Others in attendance are said to include Californian tycoon Eli Broad; hedge fund boss Julian Robertson; private-equity billionaire Pete Peterson; and former Gates Foundation CEO, now head of the Smithsonian Institute, Patty Stonesifer.

The secret meeting, held at Rockefeller University, seems to have excited the conspiracy-theory community, judging by the blogosphere, with several pundits noting that after the meeting Rockefeller flew to to join other wealthy and powerful folk at the shadowy Bilderberg Group annual meeting, where presumably he passed on instructions from Gates et al to launch their plutocratic plot for world domination.

We have no reason to doubt that the content of the meeting was as reported. Each philanthropist was given 15 minutes to speak on the subject of their choice. There was a discussion of how to encourage others to give more, and of whether they could work together on one big umbrella issue – slowing global population growth the likeliest option.

Should this meeting have been held in secret? Certainly, rich people meet together privately all the time, and no doubt discuss all manner of things, including how to be more effective philanthropists. Certainly, too, as we write in Philanthrocapitalism, theories about the rich plotting world domination are nonsense, probably even more so today in this era of big democratic government and international media than in the past. Certainly, too, the issues they discussed are crucial, and it is great that these leading philanthropists are working together, and focusing on sharing their expertise about what works.

Yet publicising the meeting, and perhaps even allowing the formal presentations to be televised, maybe even (shock, horror) holding a press conference, would have been a good idea. At the very least, it would have demonstrated that these philanthropists had nothing to hide. Better than that, showing the public that wealthy people can be serious about their giving and how they are grappling with the particularly difficult issues of today could have been an inspiration to others, rich and less rich alike. In the fictional world, superheroes tend try to hide their true identities; real world superheroes have no need be so secretive about who they are and what they do.