For about 600 Americans, this is a real question.
Last week, I wrote about what CEOs and other business leaders were doing and should do during the coronavirus crisis. This week I turn my attention to the wealthiest Americans.
What do the rich do? What should they do?
First a word on this line from F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Let me tell you about the very wealthy, they are different from you and me …” Sorry Scotty, but that’s wrong. I know quite a few very wealthy people and, in fact, they are very much like you; some good, some bad, some boastful, others quite modest.
So when it comes to participation during the pandemic, there is a range of behaviors and responses from the wealthy, just like with you, your family and your friends. For every Dolly Parton donating $ 1 million to Vanderbilt to fight the coronavirus, there is a guy from Leona Helmsley – the late miserly hotelier and guilty of tax fraud who, when she died, left her dog $ 12 million Maltese, Trouble.
Fortunately, at the moment there are more Dollys than Leonas.
“We see reports that extremely wealthy people are making substantial dollar commitments to this problem and it’s exciting, comforting and really important,” says Dr. Harvey Fineberg, president of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, which has ” $ 6.4 billion endowment. (Gordon Moore was the co-founder of Intel who designed Moore’s Law.)
“I think every citizen should help,” Blackstone CEO Steve Schwarzman, whose company donated $ 15 million to help fight the coronavirus, told me. “If you have more resources, then you help more. “
Looking across the country, I see some predictable curled up in their million dollar yachts and bunkers, but also some shining examples of selflessness.
In fact, some billionaires have been ahead. First and foremost, Bill Gates, who warned of pandemics in a TED Talk in 2015 (29 million views), and donated more money – through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, with his endowment of $ 46 billion – to fight infectious diseases that all of his billionaire brothers put together. In addition to this, Gates recently pledged $ 125 million specifically to fight the coronavirus.
It’s only natural to look at other tech billionaires too, because that’s where the money is these days and because medicine and science are adjacent to or part of the spirit of Silicon Valley . Steve Ballmer, the former Microsoft running mate at Gates, is pony-riding ($ 25 million), as is Michael Dell ($ 100 million).
But for the guys from Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the crickets. And Larry Ellison? The billionaire founder of Oracle, who recently organized a fundraiser for President Trump, took care of selling to the President chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, malaria drugs whose effectiveness against coronavirus n has not been proven. Maybe these people are contributing, maybe not (more details below.)
Meanwhile, the richest man in the world, Jeff Bezos, also wrote checks, but not to President Trump of course. Bezos donated $ 100 million to Feeding America – the largest donation in the organization’s history – as well as an additional $ 200 million in grants to organizations and civic groups that provide housing and food needed following the crisis. And the space company Blue Origin de Bezos manufactures face masks. Amazon is of course unintentionally taking advantage of the crisis as more and more shelters are shopping there. And the company has been criticized for the way it treats some of its employees during all of this.
So, does Bezos only practice high-priced public relations? To some extent, but is it even important?
“I would like to warn people when criticizing the motivation to give at a time like this,” said Alexandra Graddy-Reed, assistant professor of public policy at the University of Southern California who focuses on philanthropy. “People who don’t traditionally give make big donations. With wealthy people, we see significant donations and, hopefully, they are making a difference to the economy and the health care system. It is a capitalist society and it is the money of the rich to decide what to do. If we want this money, we have to tax it rather than criticize what they do with it. “
“Unprecedented times that call for extraordinary action”
Perhaps the most eye-catching move is not just in Silicon Valley, but across the board, Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey have pledged $ 1 billion to fight the coronavirus. The billion, an endowment in Dorsey’s Square shares, represents about 28% of his net worth. Graddy-Reed says this is an almost unknown proportion of the wealth given and notes that Dorsey has not been particularly philanthropic so far. Melody Hahm of Yahoo Finance notes that after the pandemic ends, [Dorsey’s gift] prioritize girls’ health and education and [universal basic income.] “As Graddy-Reed says, this crisis may have in fact” motivated some to go on stage “.
Laurene Powell Jobs, along with Leonardo DiCaprio, Apple and the Ford Foundation have launched a fundraising page to raise $ 15 million for World Central Kitchen and Feeding America. The founders invested $ 12 million. “We are in the midst of a national emergency, and prioritizing the most urgent needs is essential,” said Powell Jobs in a statement.
It is not known how much Powell Jobs personally donates, which reminds me of a conversation I had with her late husband Steve Jobs. I asked Steve why he was not a more philanthropist. “How do you know I’m not,” he asked me in return. “I haven’t seen anything to suggest that you are,” I told him. “How do you know I don’t do it anonymously,” he asked. “Are you,” I asked her? “I’m not going to tell you,” he replied.
And that’s the thing. It’s always difficult to get a perfect picture of philanthropy. Just because there is no press release does not mean that a billionaire does not give. That said, most people want credit for their generosity. Just check the list of nonprofit donors to see how many choose to remain anonymous. It’s almost always less than 10%.
So I don’t really know Warren Buffett. I didn’t get a response from his office about it, but remember that the third richest man in America has pledged to donate almost all of his $ 75 billion to the Gates Foundation. In addition, Buffett and the Gates convinced 209 of the wealthiest people on the planet to join the Giving Pledge, a commitment to donate most of their money to philanthropy.
And I don’t really know the wealthiest family in America either. Walton’s, whose patriarch Sam founded Walmart, sent us this statement: “At the Walton Family Foundation, our priority is our beneficiaries. We work to meet immediate needs as well as the impacts on their work in primary and secondary education, the environment and in our region of origin. “
Yet there are countless other tangible and joyful actions we can envision.
Tyler Perry buys groceries for thousands of seniors in Atlanta and New Orleans. Basketball players Kevin Love and rookie Zion Williamson supporting arena workers who have lost their jobs or hours due to the cancellation of the NBA season.
And who doesn’t like Robert Kraft sending the Patriots’ Boeing 767s to China to bring back 1.2 million N95 masks, which he even donated to the Boston archipelago, New York. Really great Robert. (The only thing better for New Yorkers would be for Bill Belichick himself to distribute the masks.)
Then there is the normally tightened private equity billionaire Leon Black, rightly talkative about his $ 20 million contribution to help healthcare workers in New York.
“Debra [Black’s wife] and I’ve been involved in philanthropy for a long time and I support a number of medical institutions in New York and the United States, “Black told us. “On an even more personal note, a family member has tested positive for COVID and has been on a ventilator for the past two weeks, receiving wonderful care from the great team at Weill Cornell. And one of my children’s closest friends is a primary care doctor at Elmhurst Hospital. We are New Yorkers, we see what is happening and we are impressed by the heroic health professionals among us. “
What does he think of recent philanthropic efforts by other wealthy people like Jack Dorsey and Bill Gates?
” Awesome! Awesome! Said Black. “We are certainly in an unprecedented era that calls for extraordinary action. It’s wonderful to see how people across the country are caring and doing what they can to help others. This comes in many forms – publicly promoting everyday heroes, caring for sick family or friends, grocery shopping for people at risk in their communities, or donating money to a good cause. . “
It’s adorable Leon.
“There is a lot of goodwill and people determined to be flexible,” said Amir Pasic, dean of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at the University of Indiana. “That is enough, I think time will tell. Right now, we’re seeing impressive agility. “
So far, most of the donations have gone to health care and health workers, etc. Although there are huge new needs where the wealthy can help; police, firefighters, restaurant, hotel and airline workers, summer program camps, and so on. There is still a lot to do.
For those of you who are reading this who are rich – and perhaps not even so rich – and who have not seen fit to contribute, billionaire John Paul DeJoria, co-founder of Paul Mitchell Products and Patrón Spirits has a word for you:
“Don’t be a little tight,” he says. “If you have something, give it back. Pay a little rent to be on this planet Earth and all the good fortune that God sent you because you have extra money. “
It’s pretty much the right JP. Rent is due.
This article was published in a Saturday edition of the Morning Brief on April 11, 2020. Receive the Morning Brief delivered to your inbox Monday to Friday at 6:30 am ET. Subscribe
Andy Serwer is editor in chief of Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter: @serwer.
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