Pivoting away from a scandal involving one of his biggest holdings, Wells Fargo (WFC, Financial), Warren Buffett (Trades, Portfolio) took some time to discuss a philanthropic initiative he created with Bill and Melinda Gates called The Giving Pledge.
The pledge calls for the world's billionaires to donate a large majority of their wealth to charities.
"I'm sitting with a bunch of certificates of Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A, Financial)(BRK.B, Financial) that I bought 55 years ago. They're sitting on a safety deposit box. They have no utility to me," says Buffett. "They can't do anything for me nor my family. Here's a lot of money that has no real utility to me, but has enormous utility to hundreds and millions of people around the world for education, research, healthcare. They can change the lives of other people, but not for my life anything I can buy, I have. So there's a million uses for that money that can really change people's lives."
The movement currently has 156 pledges, including many of the world's most famous investors.
Each member pens an initiation letter outling their reasons for joining the pledge. Buffett calls these letters "messages to the future" and believes they "will be influencing philanthropy 10, 20, 50 years from now, just like Andrew Carnegie's Gospel of Wealth."
Here are three of the letters, written by famed investors.
My earliest memories include my father's exhortations about how important it is to give back. These early teachings were ingrained in me, and a portion of the first dollars I earned, I gave away. Over the years, the emotional and psychological returns I have earned from charitable giving have been enormous. The more I do for others, the happier I am.
"In college, I had the opportunity to read John Rawls, and learn his methodology for determining how to organize the world. It made sense to me then, and still does. Rawls advised that you should imagine yourself in what he called the Original Position. Pretend that you have not yet been born, and dont know to what family or in what country or circumstance you will find yourself. He argued that the world should be organized from such a vantage point. In other words, I believe the fairest distribution would require something along the lines of the Giving Pledge. Rawls proves that charitable giving is the right thing to do from an objectively fair vantage point. "
We learned that beyond having enough money to help secure the basics - quality relationships, health, stimulating ideas, etc. - having more money, while nice, wasn't all that important. ...So we found taking our excesses and providing it to others who have extreme shortages has been both a good investment and a great satisfaction
"I began my career on Wall Street nearly 50 years ago. From a modest upbringing in Queens, New York, I have been fortunate enough to accumulate great wealth. And with that wealth comes responsibility those who have benefited the most from our economic system have a responsibility to give back to society in a meaningful way. That is why I made a commitment over 20 years ago that substantially all of my assets would be used to fund a charitable foundation."
Until Bill, Melinda and Warren started this project, I never considered going public with my intentions. However, I certainly see the value of a project that encourages wealthy individuals to step forward and commit to use their wealth for the common good. I hope that by adding my voice with those who are supporting this project, we will all encourage others to participate.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any of the stocks mentioned above and no intention to initiate a position in the next 72 hours.
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