The big news is that Warren Buffett has decided to give away most of his wealth. And the manner in which he has chosen to do that is big news as well.
Warren understands that setting up and running a foundation is complicated. Foundations are businesses themselves, with products and sales-forces, as well as huge internal bureaucracies. Warren has never been into that. He’s a visionary, a gambler, a man of intense perception and focus, but definitely not a nuts and bolts guy. Picking winners has been his talent rather than building businesses or foundations.
Melinda Gates has already done that, got the T-shirt and now Bill’s getting into the action as well, as he gradually steps out of the day-to-day at Microsoft.
A perfect fit for Buffett. An organization up and (efficiently) running, social goals that are supportive to his own and the only people richer than himself on the planet running the show, people who have no financial motive to cook the books or feather-bed their administrators.
It’s not new, this giving away of great wealth. Big news, but not new. For those who dare to venture off the Interstate highways across America, there are countless small towns with Carnegie Libraries. Delicious little gems, widely divergent architecturally, but dedicated to what Andrew Carnegie lacked—books and the knowledge that comes from reading.
Libraries were Carnegie’s legacy, built from the smoking infernos of his steel plants and the crisply suited accounting floors of a thousand financial institutions he dominated.
The names come easily; the Ford, Rockefeller, Guggenheim, Johnson, Kaiser, MacArthur, Sloane and Westinghouse Foundations. Mostly generalists that give back a major portion of what my old daddy called “the small and sometimes not-so-small crimes behind every major family fortune.” Carnegie’s ego was such that he left his name carved in granite across the nation.
So, that answers for Gates and Buffett and Carnegie, but what of Ted Turner?
I have a special place in my heart for Ted, I admit it. Ever since he won the America’s Cup international sailing race in 1977 and fell face-down drunk in his dinner plate at the award dinner, he’s been particularly human to me. Computer-whizzes are cool and investor-geniuses are certainly okay, but Ted grabbed the family business after his father’s suicide and turned certain disaster into blinding success by going against the tide of advice.
What’s not to love about that?
Turner makes John McCain look reticent by comparison, a guy who never had an opinion he wasn’t prepared to defend, a man driven by a sort of thirst for the unconventional, a next-generation Howard Hughes without becoming a recluse. The Atlanta Braves and CNN, the MGM film library and Time-Warner, fourteen ranches in six states and his own foundation are each of them enough for any man and collectively several lives worth of innovation.
In 1998 Turner gave a billion in Time-Warner stock to the United Nations and challenged the billionaires of American society to ante-up. Saying
"There is something more than money. We can no longer measure the value of a life by net worth!”
True enough. Another raising of consciousness from a man who has raised his share of hackles as well as consciences.