Money changes everything

Who writes all of the thank you notes when the world gets a pile of gifts?

For three days last week, former President Bill Clinton gathered hundreds of wealthy people at a New York City Sheraton and shook them down for charitable pledges to his Clinton Global Initiative. Those in attendance had to make a pledge of $15,000 or more, according to a New York Times report.

But many attendees went much further. Richard Branson, billionaire owner of Virgin everything, pledged $3 billion over 10 years from the profits of his plane and train divisions. The money will go toward finding renewable energy.

Others made pledges to fight disease, help the poor and fight religious and ethnic conflict.

All told, 215 commitments were made over the three days in the amount of $7.3 billion.

That’s a staggering sum of money. Perhaps we’re giving too much credit to the former president, but few people in the world in recent memory have been able to motivate others to give money in such enormous amounts.

Sure, Bill and Melinda Gates’ efforts to fight global disease through their vast foundation inspired Warren Buffett to turn over almost all of his fortune — $30 billion or so — in a truly generous gift this summer.

But when Hurricane Katrina and 2004’s tsunami struck, President Bush turned to Clinton to help in raising funds for those in need. In fact, in our memory, only Clinton and Jimmy Carter have had such successful post-presidency careers.

Turning their celebrity and power into good deeds is commendable.

Have we entered a golden age for philanthropy? Bill Gates has given away tens of billions of dollars from his Microsoft fortune. Oprah built a school in Africa. George Lucas just gave the biggest gift in the history of the University of Southern California — $175 million.

These men and women — celebrities in addition to being billionaires — are setting an amazing example for the rest of the super-rich throughout the United States and world.

But also last week, Forbes magazine released its annual list of the 400 wealthiest Americans, every one of whom is a billionaire. When you look at just how much money those 400 people have, you start to get sick to your stomach.

Behind Gates and Buffett, casino mogul Sheldon Adelson sits at No. 3 with $20.5 billion. Three Waltons (of Wal-Mart fame) sit around the No. 10 mark, with about $15.5 billion each.

How can these people still be sitting on this enormous wealth? Many of these people have made their fortunes on the backs of the poorest of the poor. So how can they see pictures of destroyed New Orleans, devastated Africa or even bleak downtown Cleveland and not open those purses?

Because most of them are damn greedy. And it’s appalling.

So thank you to the Clintons, the Gateses, the Buffetts and the Bransons of the world. You are showing true generosity.

We hope your examples inspire your peers to find a cause they believe in and start giving. Because when the poor keep getting poorer, and the rich keep getting richer, there’s only one possible destination.

And we all know the People’s Revolution doesn’t usually turn out so well for the wealthy ruling class.

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board.