Thursday, August 5, 2010

They will hate you for what you have done...

Despite the lack of a political tone that Ragnar Is A Pirate has taken on as of late, I will make an exception this time, and do a quasi-political and mildly misanthropic post.

As many have heard, Bill Gates of Microsoft fame and Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway have pledged their fortunes to charitable causes. I have a ton of respect for both of these guys and listen to anything they have to say. Delivering on the whole concept of getting other billionaires to do the same is no small feat.

Anyway, I think that there are a lot of people that are disillusioned with the brand of capitalism that we have taken on, where the government is heavily involved in the economy. And I can't say that I blame them for that. I also think that people are pissed off about the disparity of wealth in the US. Time and time again, there have been studies done, which more or less say that people don't care how much money they have, they just want for there to not be a huge wealth gap.

One snippet from an article that I like, is this: “Right now, when I look around, I think business people and financial people are pretty widely mistrusted and seen as overwhelmingly self interested,” Mr. Steyer said Wednesday. “But, I think that Warren and the Gates' point is an emphatically different one. It is that business people are not just laboring for themselves or their families, but they have bigger responsibilities and belong to a bigger community." There is no doubt about that, society does hate rich people; and they will continue to.

Despite the good hearted nature of these donations, there will be some unintended consequences. For example, it will change the velocity of money, it will change exchange rates, it will change equity prices, it will change the job outlook. For example, I don't see how you can sell off all of Buffett's BRK stock, without there being some impact on the price of the security. If over 100 billion of US dollars leave the US, it will have some impact on the value of the dollar. If a chunk of money leaves US bank accounts, it will change how said banks lend money, and will impact the velocity of money. If these guys give away their money now, it will impact US tax revenues, via the estate tax and tax exempt status of charitable organization. There are a lot of intangibles here; I am not saying that these changes are going to be very significant, good or bad, but they are there, nonetheless.

One other intangible unintended consequence that I am all but sure about, is that people will eventually be saying things such as "well, they didn't do enough!" or "they still have hundreds of millions, even billions of dollars, they don't understand the pain that is out there!" or "they chose THAT cause!?!?! there are such more note worth ones out there!" Here is a post that seems to take on a view similar to that, without directly coming out and saying it.

Personally, I don't give a damn what billionaires do with their money; they could burn it for all I care- so long as the fumes don't give me some bad smoke inhalation. It's there money that they worked for; at the very worst, someone that wanted them to have it worked for the money... regardless, it wasn't my work that generated said wealth, I have no earthly or divine right to it. Maybe it is my being an Atlas Shrugged fan (despite not being an Objectivist), but I think that people are going to hate the rich over this, and I want it on the record. I like the idea of donating to good causes, but would never pass judgment on someone for not donating to one.

As a different way of looking at the disposal of ones wealth, I have always thought it would be thought provoking (on intellectual, social, governmental, and business levels, among others) to see a billionaire liquidate his estate, buy gold bullion, sink it to the bottom of the ocean, letting whoever can get there first have it... all while anonymously watching the rat race at some dive bar.

Additionally, I have always found it to be interesting that many people readily talk about how charitable causes raise people out of poverty and improve the human condition, when often times, they reside in a country that was once poor and now rich. This is a nation that receives little to no charity from other countries and is on top of the world (for now) due in great part, to hard work, ingenuity, and people immigrating from their home nations for better prospects; such as one of the best justice systems in the world and a lot of exploitable resources. Furthermore, this is generally said about in a direction of telling people who made money from improving the lives of others through market forces, what to do with their money. If you look back just 15 years we were all poor by today's standards; no cell phones, no Internet, no computers that were worth a damn, tube TVs, VHS, and many other things/lack of things... Look back 75 or 100 years, in the winter, there would generally 1 warm room in the average persons house, if even that. Now, relative to GDP and such, we have infinity nicer houses, that also cheaper. As a nation, we generally never have an idea how poor we actually are.

Hell, I didn't even know the greatness that is a fully dressed Vegetarian Fajita Burrito from Chipotle, or a Vito from Jimmy Johns, commercial air travel, or Google Android until sometime in the last 6 years. Talk about not knowing how poor I was! The bottom line: Capitalism works. We may not like some of the results, but it is better than anything else, and at least we have the choice to spend out money in different (and sometimes pretty inefficient) ways with it; such as with buy local campaigns, fair trade items, TOMS, and the like... some of which, even I buy regularly!

Disclosure: No positions in any of the companies mentioned, but not overly bullish on society as a whole. As always with this sort of post: partly serious, partly jest.

UPDATE: Here, we see people talking about how Buffett is dodging his tax bill. I think that this, if anything highlights my point. People are bitching just to bitch. Furthermore, it may shed light on why people don't donate more to private charity and don't demand a dollar for dollar tax credit for said charitable contributions. Could it be that they innately want for the government to take relatively equally from us, and then dole the money back out?

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