Sunday, June 25, 2006

Let Not Thy Left Hand Know What Thy Right Hand Doeth

(Unless your right hand is REALLY big)

Warren Buffet is giving 95% of his fortune (eventually 100%) to charities, most of it to the Gates foundation. Thats roughly 37 billion dollars and more than doubles what the Gates have in the foundation (more if his stock price goes up in the next few years). I've always respected filthy rich people who give all their money away. Even though God tells us that we should give in private, when you're that rich it would be nearly impossible to hide what you're doing with the money- so I have no beef with super rich people announcing to the whole world their charity. If only we had more rich people like the Gates and the Buffets, and fewer like the Waltons (walmart) who give a miniscule portion of their wealth to charities (at least publically- maybe I'm wrong and they give large private donations...).

Now there are good charities and... less good charities. Good causes and, well, bad causes. Lets imagine that you were able to establish the (insert your name here) Foundation which had 20 billion dollars invested such that allowed you to spend 1 billion dollars per year on anything you wanted. What would you do with it? Would you focus on a particular area like world hunger or vaccinations, or medical research, or inner city programs, or building libraries? Would you have a philosophy of only making donations to projects that attack the roots of problems rather than their symptoms? (Like giving small business grants in poor communities rather than opening a soup kitchen) Would you just be indiscriminant (to a point) and give to whatever organization asks first? Would you spend nationally or internationally? Would you tackle less urgent matters than world hunger and poverty and go for things like arts and community activities?

Heres what the Webb Foundation might do:

Along with other donors, build a string of community colleges across South America (and other poor areas). I bet with a billion dollars a year, you could set up one every few months. One thing I noticed in South America was the lack of higher education. They had the University of Buenos Aires, and a few other private colleges, but the people that I served with just didn't have their sights set on higher education. If the colleges were brought to the people, and if they were cheap, then maybe higher education would become more of a way of life. Along with the colleges, a secular form of the perpetual education fund could also be set up to help impoverished people pay for college.

Our education system has problems. There are as many proposed solutions as there are members of congress. I consider myself conservative, and your average conservative balks at "throwing more money" at the problem, but honestly, if you were trying to support your family on one income, would YOU become a high school teacher? If teacher wages were higher, there would be more competition for the jobs, and the teacher quality would go up. So I would start setting up private schools in states that do school vouchers. Each school would be endowed with enough money from the Webb Foundation which, when combined with the government money would allow for high teacher pay, along with small class size and all the cool programs that many private schools have. These schools could then have more academic freedom from the government and could then be tailored more to the community. Parental involvment would be higher. These wouldn't be schools for rich kids, though they would be of the same caliber and could be selective of students based on things like their attendence. Again, with a billion a year, new high schools could be built every month or so... Obviously lots of details to work out, but I think that our current public high school model is failing and doesn't appear to be improving, and ultimately needs to be replaced.

PBS did a special on "microgrants", which are small business loans or grants to people in third world countries who want to start a local business. The effects they can have on poor people and communities is tremendous.


erin said...

Microcredit is a great idea. It's pretty neat, too, how few defaulters there are on these loans because they're given to a group, and if one member of the group defaults, the rest of the group pays. Since the group is made up of neighbors who know each other well, there is a lot of social pressure to follow through.

There was an organization years ago called the Inter-American Foundation (there still is the IAF and ostensibly they do the same thing still, but it doesn't have the free reign that it used to now that it has significant government involvement). This organization gave grants, mostly in Latin America and I think the Carribbean (and how do you spell that? I wish this thing had spell check). The grants were given to plans and projects that were thought up by individuals and communities experiencing the problems rather than by an elitist in some ivy tower. A representative would go check out the situation and see if the IAF would fund it. The question was sustainability so looking at community involvement, upkeep prices and income etc. was a big deal, but also, even if an idea might fail or looked like it might fail to the representative, sometimes they'd fund it anyway as a first step. Anyway, it was a great organization when it was new and didn't have to report to anyone--no one in Washington cared about it, but it was so successful that someone wanted to own it and it kind of went political.

If I had a foundation, I'd want to do the same sort of thing, because I really think that solutions are usually solved locally with local involvement and local ownership. I'd probably focus my attentions either on agricultural projects or on cultural issues in health and medicine. I'd ask people for good ideas and...and see where we went with them. ;) Whew this comment is long. Good topic, Nick. These theoretical questions are great because, although I'm never going to have money like Warren Buffat and I'll probably not be living for a thousand years, what I do benevolenly and with the time I have is just as important in its smallness, I think, as if it was huge.

Jenny said...

There's something so hopeful about this post ... both in the idea that people can actually help other people, and in the idea that one day Nick and I might be wildly rich ... :) Just kidding about the second clause there. But I do hope we're in a position one day to help others more than we can right now. One of the things I've seen in our ward that I'd like to sidestep are faithful older couples whose financial choices/luck/circumstances help to keep them from being able to serve missions/serve as many missions as they want. When I think about long-range financial goals, being able to serve always pops up in my mind. I'd hate to be wanting to serve a full-time mission while greeting people at Walmart in my golden years (I might still greet people at Walmart, but just in the off years when we're not gone--I think greeting while not being able to go for financial reasons would transform all those nice people entering Walmart into financial roadblocks for me and I would resent them and their need to be greeted and that wouldn't make anyone happy because really, who likes to be glared at with hidden resentment by a Walmart greeter?)

JonnyF said...

The first thing the Fredrickson Foundation would do is hire MacGyver- you know, to get the job done when the bad guys get in the way. (The Phoenix Foundation was definitely on to something.) Then… maybe some community colleges or something. I do like that idea, though I haven’t worked out the details. Maybe after building them the Fredrickson Foundation would set up a non-profit for each one so that we wouldn’t have to run them.
Maybe we would set up a seminar in Washington D.C. and all the state capitals. It would be called “Economics for Government Legislators and Administrators” and subtitled “If You’re Going to Make or Administer Economic Policy, you Better Know shat the Heck you are Talking About.” It would be taught be Warren Anderson and, since he seems to be a fan of charity, Warren Buffet. This way our legislators would know what they were doing, and be less succeptible to the influence of renegade economists. (I just wanted to say renegade.)
Maybe then we could take the show on the road, so to speak. We could go on international tour, having seminars on whatever economic principles the leaders or citizens of that particular area are having problems with. (Maybe in Iraq, we could get the leaders of the insurgency together and have a seminar called, “Is Blowing up the Hearts and Minds of Iraqis the Best Way to Win over the Hearts and Minds of Iraqis?” In Moscow, we could have one called, “Let’s not Forget why we Started Moving away from Communism.” Singapore: “Keep up the Good Work.” Japan: “Why Can’t you Make Anything Better than the iPod? Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela. “You Can’t Have your Cake and Eat it Too.” France and Germany: “The ‘Right to Work’ Myth” or “There’s no Such Thing as a Free Lunch.” North Korea: “Don’t Make us Come over There.”)
I guess that’s enough of that. I’m having too much fun.

Jenny said...

I'm laughing Jon ...