Taking the Gates-Buffett Giving Pledge

Today’s launch by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett of the giving pledge is a big step forward for philanthrocapitalism. Indeed, it marks philanthrocapitalism’s coming of age as a movement, with the Gateses and Buffett as its activist leaders. They are challenging every billionaire family in America, and ultimately the world, to pledge in a public letter to give away at least half of their wealth. Those who do so will be invited to brainstorm with the Gateses and Buffett about how to be more effective philanthropists at an annual “Great Givers” summit, the first of which is likely to take place in October.

The idea first started to take shape in May last year at the secret meeting of leading philanthropists in New York that we have blogged about and which we write about in the preface to the paperback of Philanthrocapitalism (which, happily, is now out on kindle, at last). The Gateses and Buffett will be talking about the giving pledge tonight on the Charlie Rose show.

The launch of the giving pledge comes at a time when the rich are generally viewed more sceptically in America than in many years, and in which philanthrocapitalism is being questioned like never before (see this New Republic editorial, for example, or Diane Ravitch’s latest book on education reform). Yet, as readers of our book know, we think that in these tough economic times there is more need for philanthrocapitalism than ever before, and are delighted that the Gateses and Buffett have decided to play a more active role in promoting it.

In the book, we report Bill Gates’s estimate that only around 15% of the wealthy who could be giving away substantial amounts of money are doing so, though he believed that this would eventually rise to around 70%. Here’s hoping that the giving pledge will help this dramatic shift happen.