Monday, August 16, 2010

Just generosity

I read an interesting article in The Week about an initiative of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett to get fellow billionaires to give away their wealth. It points out that potential gifts of the order of $6bn per year need to be compared to the $303bn in total annual private donations from US citizens. Through the article I became aware of a provocative opinion piece, The rich want a better world? Try paying fair wages and tax by Peter Wilby, originally published in The Guardian. Here are the last two paragraphs:

I repeat: we should welcome the Gates-Buffett initiative and applaud those who have joined it. Generous, public-spirited billionaires are preferable to mean ones. But remember that two-thirds of US corporations contrive to pay no federal income tax at all and that transfer pricing alone – a legal device, used, for instance, by Ellison's Oracle Corp, that converts sales in one country to profits in another where tax liabilities are low – deprives the US treasury of $60bn annually. Such sums, which pile more taxes on the poor and reduce funds for government projects that advance the public good, dwarf what the 40 billionaires propose to give away.

If the rich really wish to create a better world, they can sign another pledge: to pay their taxes on time and in full; to stop lobbying against taxation and regulation; to avoid creating monopolies; to give their employees better wages, pensions, job protection and working conditions; to make goods and use production methods that don't kill or maim or damage the environment or make people ill. When they put their names to that, there will be occasion not just for applause but for street parties.

This all reminded me of the passage in Luke 21:

Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, 2and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. 3And he said, "Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. 4For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on."

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