Should Rich People Give Away Money, and How Much?

Many wealthy people give vast sums of money away to charity. From a moral point of view, are they doing something worthy? Should we applaud them and praise them for this?

There is no doubt that the large amounts given away by such people as Bill Gates, or Warren Buffet (who I've never heard of, but someone said he gives lots away) or historical figures such as Carnegie or Rockefeller, can go a long way towards relieving the suffferings of the poor, and providing them with opportunities in life. And these acts of charity get a lot of attention from the media. But we are here concerned with the moral aspect. How worthy are these acts of charity by these fabulously wealthy men?

I want to try a philosophy thought experiment. Before I do, maybe it should be said that, often, a wealthy person can trade off a charitable gift against a tax break, so his loss is not really as much as it seems. But to keep things simple in the thought experiment, let's allow the rich men to have their tax break and just look at it in simple terms?

A Thought Experiment

You have ten dollars. I have ten billion dollars. We each give $1 to charity. Our contributions are exactly the same amount. From a moral point of view, which is the most worthy?

Yours. You may need all your $10 dollars to feed your family, so $1 is a big sacrifice. I will not miss $1, I won't even notice it.

Again, you have ten dollars. I have ten billion dollars. You give $1, which is 10% of your total wealth. I give one billion dollars, which is 10% of my total wealth. So we have given the same proportion of our wealth away. I have given away ONE BILLION DOLLARS, a staggering amount of money! From a moral point of view, surely now, my contribution is more worthy than yours? Or at least, it's equally worthy, isn't it?

No. Because you have only $9 left to feed your family, but I have $9 billion. I think I'll probably manage OK on that.

Again, you have ten dollars. I have ten billion dollars. How can I make a contribution to charity that will, from a moral point of view, be the equal of yours?

Could it be that, in order to equal in worthiness your contribution of one dollar, I have to give $9,999,999,991?

Yes, because, in a charitable contribution, what really counts is not how much you give, but how much you have left. If I am left with only $9, I will feel the same pain and worry as you, so only then will I have made the same sacrifice as you.

So the acclaim that is given to rich men by the newspapers and the network news channels, when they give away minute portions of their fortunes, is totally misdirected. I'm not saying they should not give money away; I think it's good that they do. I'm not saying either that they should leave themselves with only nine dollars. What I'm saying is that it needs to be put into perspective. When they make these admittedly huge gifts, they should not praised and acclaimed as though they were especially virtuous and worthy men, as though the size of their giving made them automatically worthy of praise.


Praz said...

The main reason Philanthropists indulge in charitable actions is because of the massive media attention provided to it. Of course, there's the self satisfactory part, but nobody in their sane mind can resist the temptation to be famous for however long it lasts.
Rarely does a major monetary contribution from a rich scion goes unnoticed.
The blame partly rests with the media, for subversively encouraging the philanthropists to engage in charity.
The newspapers and magazines stand to gain publicity for themselves in turn, which boosts their interests too. The print media is also provided a substantial amount of money by the Rich when they need to pull some strings.

tikno said...

I'm dreaming for the giving with sincerely, and the receiver will receive it with sincerity. Only God knows.

aurasacrafames said...

I’m opposed to those actions, because she don’t biased toward those people, how Lao-tsé say to teach you to fish!


Wenny said...

I agree with you totally. Why should praise be accorded if the giving is genuine from the heart. True generosity expects no return in any form except from God and yourself. I prefer 'Anonymous Donor'. That's genuine!

surjit said...

In charity,I think, even the left hand should not know what the right hand is giving.

Illusions said...

Hmm, interesting thought experiment.

I believe it depends on the intention in giving...

If the person is giving for the feeeeling of giving, then the proportion between what they give, and what they have left is going to mean something to them.

If they're giving in order to get aproval from others, then the proportion between what they give and what they have left is going to mean something.....

But if they're giving purely for the benefit of the receiver.... then the amount they give is all that matters. If you think about it, for example, if a child in rural Africa receives the help he needs, I don't think he's going to be concerned about how much the philathropist has left in his bank account ;) I suspect that child will be focused on whatever it is he needed and has now received. :)

Great blog! xxx

The abstract scientist said...

I think no one can give enough. Giving cannot be quantified. You must give and whatever you give should be with all your heart and mind. You should also give to a recepient who truly deserves it. I think one must use thir mind first to fully understand the need and give wisely.
The reason why many rich people donate to charity is for attention and tax evasion. But we must not judge.

WayTooCool said...

WTF is this? rich people don't even have to give their money away. and who the hell are you to criticize them for giving money away? if you're the bigger man, you go make a million dollars and you give all that away. but don't go criticizing others for doing something they don't even have to do in the first place.

Paul8bee said...

Good post.
Money is a form of exchange.
I have found that money does not equal a transfer of quality.
Pay lots of dollars, but what do you get in return?
True wealth is that which can not be bought by dollars.
The billions of $$ do not guarantee quality.
If you had a lifesaving cure for a disease and you kept it quiet because you are holding out for money, would that not make you a bad person? I think so.
Just give what you have and expect nothing in return works good.
The only animal on this planet that will respond to money, is the human being.
Offer a bear or a wolf 1 billion and see if they care.

Paul8bee said...

I did not check the ""mail follow-up comments.""
So I post again.
this time it is only for convenience

The Good News Herald ATL said...

Interesting post. Thanks for creating the thought experiment.