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Giving Pledge

Translated by DOMINIC LOH

I was having a dinner with a successful businessman the other day. He told me he was about to carry out a massive project, not one to make money, but to spend money!

He said he would talk to at least 100 wealthy men in the country, and get each of them to fork out a million ringgit towards a RM100 million medical assistance fund to provide medical assistance to the underprivileged in the society.

Malaysia has a fair share of millionaires. To this privileged group of people, a million ringgit is not too much.

The businessman told me at least a hundred well-to-do families in Klang Valley alone could come out with that money, and the amount would be even more impressive if the cause were to be extended nationwide.

If the plan could eventually go ahead, yearly interests would sum up to around five or six million, and this interest revenue alone could help foot the medical bills of some 500 to 1,000 impoverished patients in the country.

The plan has a noble mission and pretty good prospects.

The only problem: How is he going to persuade these filthy rich people to take out RM1 million each?

Everyone will come when we talk about making money, but not about digging into our own pockets. This rightly reflects the way Malaysia's rich and famous think of their wealth.

The more money we make, the more secure we feel. Even if we are unable to finish up all our wealth, at least we can leave it to our posterity.

We don't seem to comprehend the meaning of wealth.

Let's see how the Americans view their wealth.

Mircosoft founder Bill Gates and investor Warren Buffet recently launched the "Giving Pledge" campaign to get wealthy Americans to pledge at least half of their estates to welfare organisations for the purposes of helping the poor, medicare, education, technology innovation, environment protection and arts development.

Half of their estates? Good Heavens! By that Gates and Buffet alone will have to come out with US$50 billion!

The thing is both Gates and Buffet have pledged to donate a lot more than half, but 99%!

So far 34 billionaires have made their pledges.

Are you trying to tell me that the super rich in America do not need that sense of security at all? Don't they also need to leave behind some money to their children and grandchildren?

This is where our value system differs.

Gates said his life was comfortable enough and he did not need to go beyond that. He also said he didn't want to leave too much to his descendents for he wanted them to become productive themselves.

More importantly Gates felt the current social system had been largely distorted and unequal, resulting in too much wealth being distributed to him. Gates wanted to donate his wealth to rectify some of the inequality.

Other billionaires might beg to differ. They feel they have made their money with their own skills and abilities and are therefore fully justified to claim all their wealth as their own.

It is therefore hardly surprising that anti-rich sentiment grows in our society.

The self-centric inclination of capitalism has fattened the pockets of only a handful, often at the expense of millions others, culminating in the gross inequitable distribution of our social resources.

Human beings have tried and experimented many different ways to fix such discrepancies but to no avail.

While billionaires deserve to be commended for their abilities to make their money in the rightful ways, but to spend their money for the good of their communities must be seen as more of an obligation that could somewhat make up for the deficiencies of capitalism.

Gates and Buffet are most definitely no leftists, but they are well aware of the shortcomings of capitalism. While enjoying the perks it brings, they have also tried to fix the imbalances and aberrations it generates.

There isn't anything like the "Giving Pledge" in Malaysia. Neither would our society expect any rich man to take out half of his wealth. That said, this meagre sum of a million ringgit should serve as a test for our rich and famous, a kind of force that should rectify the distortions in our society.

Sin Chew Daily

MySinchew 2010.08.06



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