I don't mean to be churlish about Warren Buffett. He's adorable. I love his Norman Rockwell face and I get a kick out of his unfashionable white shirts with collars that flip up. The guy owns See's Candies. What's more, he plays the ukelele and used to fly tourist (before he bought Net Jet). He's even a pretty good writer -- assuming that he writes his annual report himself, which I assume. And I can't get over the fact that he owns See's Candies. I know I already mentioned that, but it's worth repeating.
But on the occasion of Buffett's announcement that he's giving away $37.4 billion, I'd like to say one thing:
Not a moment too soon.
Warren Buffett is 75 years old, and the mind reels at how much good he could have done had he given away just a little bit of his money in the years since he became the richest (and then second-richest) man in the world.
Instead, he gave away nothing. What's more, he took a position on giving money away: he said he wouldn't give a nickel to charity until the day he died. I've never understood why he took this stance, but I can hazard a guess: it meant that no one would bother him for money. It must be hell having all that money and having people constantly ask you for it. Easier to just say no to everyone.
But in this era when you can do so much with private money (especially given the fact that the government does so little), it's tragic to think that Buffett sat on his for so many years -- and that he may have encouraged other billionaires to sit on theirs. If Buffett had just given away $250 million a year -- which is what people like him call "a rounding error" -- there's no telling what he could have done. A disease might have been cured. A symphony might have been written. The life of a sick child might have been saved.
His decision to give so much of his money to the Gates Foundation is great news. Bill and Melinda Gates (and Patty Stonecipher, who runs the Foundation) have found a way to change the world. And, as Buffett said today, they're up and running and they know what they're doing. Perhaps we should follow Buffett's lead and give the Gateses the money that's lying fallow because there's no plan for what to do with it: the money that's earmarked for New Orleans, for stem cell research and for early childhood education, to name a few recent examples of vast sums that are all dressed up with no place to go. Let the Gates Foundation solve all the problems, every last one of them. But sooner rather than later.