Wednesday, July 18, 2007
When I interviewed Bill Gates in 1995, he said his children, who had not then be born, would not inherit his fortune which stood at what now seems a modest $6 billion. He intended to give it all away. I was sceptical, but he seems to be sticking to his plan and to a grand tradition of American philanthropy. Now we seem to have our own big giver in Sir Tom Hunt, who intends to give away £1 billion before he dies. He says he does not want to 'burden' his children with massive inheritances, but 'they will be well looked after.' Meanwhile, sundry hedge funders and other louts wreck the Mirabelle and pour £4,500 bottles of Cristal over each other. Of course, they will move on to better things - like an $80 million submarine. 'I'm a poet who builds submersible yachts for rich people,' says the sub builder. (Everybody I have ever met who sells ludicrously expensive things to insanely rich people claims to be either a poet or a philosopher. Funny that.) But will these louts grow up and move on to philanthropy like Hunt and Gates? Britain, I am often told, is acquiring the American philanthropic spirit. Perhaps this is because we have stopped taxing the rich into submission and because more people now doubt the competence of government to handle things like the arts, poverty alleviation and overseas aid. Perhaps also the native tradition of hating the rich is beginning to fade. After all, Britain is a land full of working class heroes who are very rich indeed. Philanthropy is a very high kind of sanity, a way of saying we belong to one another. It is the opposite of submarines and Cristal, it is the opposite of waste.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 4:43 am