Wednesday, March 11, 2009

you don't deserve your money

What Should A Billionaire Give?

Peter Singer writes:

"A few years ago, an African-American cabdriver taking me to the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington asked me if I worked at the bank. I told him I did not but was speaking at a conference on development and aid. He then assumed that I was an economist, but when I said no, my training was in philosophy, he asked me if I thought the U.S. should give foreign aid. When I answered affirmatively, he replied that the government shouldn’t tax people in order to give their money to others. That, he thought, was robbery. When I asked if he believed that the rich should voluntarily donate some of what they earn to the poor, he said that if someone had worked for his money, he wasn’t going to tell him what to do with it.

"At that point we reached our destination. Had the journey continued, I might have tried to persuade him that people can earn large amounts only when they live under favorable social circumstances, and that they don’t create those circumstances by themselves. I could have quoted Warren Buffett’s acknowledgment that society is responsible for much of his wealth. “If you stick me down in the middle of Bangladesh or Peru,” he said, “you’ll find out how much this talent is going to produce in the wrong kind of soil.” The Nobel Prize-winning economist and social scientist Herbert Simon estimated that “social capital” is responsible for at least 90 percent of what people earn in wealthy societies like those of the United States or northwestern Europe. By social capital Simon meant not only natural resources but, more important, the technology and organizational skills in the community, and the presence of good government. These are the foundation on which the rich can begin their work. “On moral grounds,” Simon added, “we could argue for a flat income tax of 90 percent.” Simon was not, of course, advocating so steep a rate of tax, for he was well aware of disincentive effects. But his estimate does undermine the argument that the rich are entitled to keep their wealth because it is all a result of their hard work. If Simon is right, that is true of at most 10 percent of it."

It's important, I think, to never forget the circumstances under which we were born. I was born in Springfield, VA, USA, to a brilliant, insanely loving mother (probably about as close to perfect as a person can get) and an equally brilliant father who worked hard to provide for us. Growing up, my mother and father read to me constantly, and worked with me to make sure that I was ready when school rolled around. Add to this mix the support of three grandparents and a gang of aunts and uncles all eager to help, and you could mention a silver spoon, totally.

So, here I am. I have opportunities. I was born in America to loving parents. I was lucky.

Not fair. Life's not fair. I know. But that ain't right.

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