3On June 16, 2010, Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett announced a“Giving Pledge” campaign in which the wealthiest American individuals and families areasked to commit at least half their wealth to charitable or philanthropic causes, eitherduring their lifetimes or at death.
The Forbes 400 wealthiest Americans at that time, taken all together, had anestimated total net worth of about $1.2 trillion ($1,200 billion). If half of that were givento charity the contributions would add up to $600 billion, roughly twice the total amountthen being given annually to charity by all Americans. Since the top 400 U.S. incomeearners were then giving only about 8% of their
(not wealth) to charity each year,and since the 38,000 or so annual estate tax returns to IRS were showing charitablebequests of only about 12% of their $229 billion in total estate value, the Giving Pledgeclearly has the potential to greatly increase – in fact to transform – Americanphilanthropy.
By the end of April, 2011, 69 billionaires had made the pledge. Manyothers have been contacted and are thinking about it.
The Giving Pledge is a major initiative with transforming potential. But it fitsinto an old and uniquely American philanthropic tradition, in which economicallysuccessful people “give back” much of their accumulated wealth to help others. Sincethe beginning of the twentieth century, when John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie andothers established their great charitable foundations, private philanthropy has become amajor element in efforts at social progress in the United States.
Wealthy Americans have also played a major part in politics and policy making.There can be little doubt that economic resources can be translated into political