Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Buffet, Gates, Morgan, money leads to Urban legend status

So, I’m sure people heard about Warran Buffet’s 31 billion dollar contribution to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Apparently, Buffet said that he’s giving money to the foundation because he would not be as devoted in that endeavor as the Gateses have been. Which is probably true since Bill Gates recently announced that he would step down as the managing CEO of the company and dedicate himself to the running of his foundation.
This raises a couple of questions. First more and more of the worlds capital is controlled by fewer and fewer hands. The 2005 Human Development Report published by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) reported that the “richest 50 individuals in the world have a combined income greater than that of the poorest 416 million.” “The 2.5 million people living on less than 2 dollars a day, 40 percent of the world’s population, receive only 5 percent of global income, while 54% of global income goes to the riches 10% of the world’s population.”
Second, if fewer and fewer control the wealth, will that relieve governments from dealing with the poor of their country? Don’t get me wrong. The Gates Foundation has high aspirations. According to the NY Times Bill Gates said that they are putting money towards research into finding an AIDS vaccine as well as vaccines for other fatal diseases.
In many ways the Gates foundation can do a lot of good, but is it enough? For example, the foundation doesn’t tackle infrastructure issues, which can effect real change. The New York Times reports that they build model schools instead of putting money into failing public education. The foundation also does things like put money into looking for the aforementioned vaccines or providing resources to prevent illness in some situations, but they don’t try to tackle health cares systems. I’m not saying they should, but I think this marks a shift in the world as the wealth distribution gap gets wider and wider.
Bringing the topic back to the subject of urban legend and invented tradition, I think that we will remember these never before seen economic giants in big ways. I think that the same way that Carnegie and Rockefeller are remembered as sort of separate from who they might have been. In many ways, the widening distribution of wealth will mean that people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet will become an even bigger part of our folklore than Carnegie and Rockefeller once were. According to the NY times Jean Strouse compiled an oral history project on the foundation has written a biography about another very wealthy American JP Morgan. How much in the official histories of these people will they be lifted to legend status? Here’s a link to an interview with Strouse. Read her first response, which details the way others had written about Morgan.

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