What if the ultra rich -- those who have amassed multi-billion dollar fortunes -- gave half their wealth to charitable causes?
Would this generous effort change the world or nation by solving or reducing serious social problems?
Well, billionaires Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett believe it could be a difference maker. They have embarked on a campaign to persuade their peers to pledge to give away the bulk of their fortunes to causes of their choice, Patty Stonesifer, former CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, told The Associated Press last week.
Buffett has already pledged to give away 99 percent of his $46 billion fortune to charity.
If the 400 billionaires in the United States, with a net worth of $1.2 trillion according to Forbes, were to donate at least half their money to charity it would triple the amount of giving in this country, The Seattle Times reported. Yet, just 17 of those 400 billionaires currently rank among the top 50 givers in the country.
"That could be transformational," said Phil Buchanan, president of the Center for Effective Philanthropy. "It could have a dramatic effect on some of the toughest social challenges that we face. But people have to do it first."
While tripling the amount of giving in this country would, to be sure, change the way in which social problems are address, what impact would it have on the nation's economy?
The billions of dollars in question are not tucked under a mattress somewhere, but invested in businesses. The money keeps businesses running and people employed.
Given that, it's probably not prudent -- nor possible -- for billionaires to pledge to give away half their fortune. Those who have amassed huge fortunes generally are smart and savvy. They understand how much money must be invested, and how much is expendable.
Buffett and Bill Gates, worth an estimated $53 billion, are so rich they have more flexibility than most of their fellow billionaires. Still, they have been extremely generous. Bill and Melinda Gates are now devoting much of their time, as well as money, to good causes.
As Buffett has said, fate can be "wildly capricious" in leading some people to be rich and others poor.
Those who have been fortunate enough to become incredibly wealthy do have a responsibility to give back to society.