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Billionaires Promised to Give Away Half Their Wealth, Instead, They Doubled it

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Aug 4, 2020 is the 10th anniversary of the “Giving Pledge,” started by billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. (See New York Times piece from Aug. 4, 2010.)

CHUCK COLLINS, chuck at ips-dc.org; also via Bob Keener, bobk at ips-dc.org

Collins is director of the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies and co-author of the report “Gilded Giving 2020: How Wealth Inequality Distorts Philanthropy and Imperils Democracy” and “The Giving Pledge at 10: A Case Study in Top Heavy Philanthropy.”

He said today: “Private philanthropy has always been a form of power for wealthy donors. But as wealth inequality has exploded in recent decades, it has concentrated that private power in even fewer hands — and all subsidized by private taxpayers.”

The findings include: “Of the 62 living U.S. Pledgers who were billionaires in 2010, their combined wealth has increased from $376 billion in 2010 to $734 billion as of July 18, 2020, an increase of 95 percent, in 2020 dollars.

“Of these 62, 11 have seen their wealth go down either because of aggressive charitable giving or market changes. But the remaining 51 have seen significant increases in their net worth. Nine of the billionaires have seen their wealth increase over 200 percent over the decade, adjusted for inflation. These include Mark Zuckerberg (1783 percent), John Doerr (416 percent), Marc Benioff (400 percent), Bernie and Billie Marcus (311 percent), Ken Langone (288 percent), Ray Dalio (280 percent) Arthur Blank (277 percent) Stephen Schwarzman (245 percent), Scott Cook and Signe Ostby (221 percent).

“The 100 living U.S. Pledgers who were billionaires on March 18, 2020 had a combined wealth of $758.3 billion at that time. This is the date of both the beginning of the pandemic lockdowns in the U.S. and the publication of Forbes‘ annual global billionaire survey. By July 17, 2020, their assets had surged to $971.9 billion. This means that over the four worst months of the pandemic in the United States to date, their collective wealth increased by $213.6 billion — an increase of 28 percent.”
Collins also just wrote the piece “In a pandemic, billionaires are richer than ever. Why aren’t they giving more?” in The Guardian. 

Said Collins: “Philanthropy should not become a taxpayer-subsidized extension of private wealth, power, and influence for the richest 0.1 percent. … Congress needs to update the rules governing philanthropy to prevent abuses to the tax code and protect our democracy and nonprofit sector.”

The “Gilded Giving 2020” report finds that top-heavy philanthropy poses considerable risks to “the independence of the nonprofit sector, the integrity of the tax system, and to democracy itself.” It also suggests that the 2017 tax cut and the COVID-19 pandemic will worsen this drift toward inequality in philanthropy.

Collins and his fellow analysts found: “Small donor giving has been steadily declining for two decades. Between 2000 and 2016 (most recent data), the percentage of households giving to charity has dropped from 66 percent to 53 percent. Wage stagnation, unemployment, declining homeownership all contribute to economic insecurity and declines in giving.

“The increase in charitable giving has been driven by donations by wealthy donors and mega gifts over $300 million.”

August 4, 2020