Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Mere Praise and Merited Praise: Warren Buffet Fully Deserves the Latter

Proper applause is due to Warren Buffett for his gift of his fortune of $31 billion to the Gates Foundation (Bill Gates is another very rich man giving his fortune away in a well-thought programme that aims to make lasting differences to the recipients’ lives and those who follow on).

People may receive praise, and wallow in it, but the real goal of moral people is to deserve praise, whether they receive praise or not.

With such an intrusive media today, it would not be easy to hide fortunes of this magnitude, and with a litigious society too, if there was any doubts about Warren Buffert’s clear intentions to dispose of his fortune while of sound mind a body, his posthumous legacy would be wasted in litigation from undeserving others. So, publicity is inevitable and unavoidable.
But there is absolutely no doubt that that Warren Buffett and Bill Gates deserve every ounce of praise their actions attract.

The Times on-line (London) 27 June, reports:

HOW do you thank a man whose just given you $31 billion to spend? Bill Gates came up with the answer yesterday, by giving Warren Buffett, his fellow billionaire philanthropist, his personal copy of Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations.

When they appeared together for the first time since Mr Buffett announced his $31 billion (£17 billion) donation to the Microsoft founder’s charitable foundation, Mr Gates recited the opening line of Smith’s famous doctrine in tribute to his friend.

“How[ever] selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature[,] which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him,” the world’s richest man said to its second-richest

The quote is from Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments (I.i.1.1: p 9) [delete ‘ever’ in first square bracket; insert comma in second] not Wealth of Nations.

However, it is entirely appropriate. Smith would have approved. He did likewise on a much more modest scale with his income before he died in 1790. He gave it away in private chartable acts to indigent relatives and unknown others, in small sums over many years, and left a mere £400 in cash to his heir, plus his library (itself worth a small fortune), but of the rest of his lifetime earnings (he was exceptionally frugal by nature), there was none.


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