Generosity: Carol or Bountiful Fable?
by Gilles d'Aymery

December 22, 1996

This is the time of the year when we give lip service to our great sense of generosity while hiking up our credit card balances in the malls. It's called the "Season of Sharing". Do you remember Bob Dole and his Guinness Book of Records declaration that there is no hunger in America, adding how much We the People are generous? Great feel-good stuff, wasn't it?

In this tax-deductible generosity season, no one is more generous than the wealthy crowd, the Forbes movers and shakers, the modern barons of industry, commerce and services. Aware of their good fortune, those plutocrats give back to society in the form of hefty charitable contributions. Yes, they are both charitable and generous. It goes with the season. The business of charities raise 90 pct of their funds between Thanksgiving and Christmas. They are charitable, generous, thankful and, it can not hurt, God loving-fearing Christ...ian. All the stuff of a good Hollywood movie, so that we can add holy to the litany. Feels better by the minute.

Take the top 70 or so biggest charitable donations for a total amount of about 1.2 billion dollars, give and take a few million, from private individuals and foundations. $1.2 billion, that is what you call generosity! Where else in the world would we find so much charitable generosity? Nowhere, that is where. Really, the needy bunch around has no idea how lucky they are to be needy in such a generous and charitable part of the world. We are the most generous people in the world, after all. Repeat after me: "We are the most generous people in the world". You better believe it. And you do, Good Samaritans that you are.

Take the wealthiest American, Bill Gates, the Chairman and CEO of Microsoft Inc. According to Forbes, he is worth $18.5 billion. I guess at this level you can give or take a couple of billion since, I guess again, you cannot even mentally fathom what it represents, what it means. At least I can't. So the $1.2 billion charitable donations amount to about 6.5 per cent of Mr. Gates' fortune. He, himself, gave $27 million in two donations. That makes him the tenth most generous person of 1996, according to the Slate 60, the list of the sixty largest American charitable contributions as published in Microsoft Slate magazine (the list is actually 73 names long). $27 million given away by one individual, that's a lot of money. That's about 0.00146 of Mr. Gates' fortune. To find out whether your own generosity favorably compares to Mr. Gates', take your net worth and multiply it by 0.00146. Everything's relative.

To make sure you are in sync here, look at the 400 wealthiest Americans, worth among them a mere $483 billion, which averages to about $84.5 billion for 70 of them. Then, the $1.2 billion tax-deductible donations relate to 0.0141 of the average 70 wealthiest Americans. Sing with me: "We are generous, generous, generous".

Now, where did all this $1.2 billion generosity go? Who are the lucky needy who got blessed by such generosity? Bill Gates gave $15 million to Harvard University and another $12 million to the University of Washington, where, as we all know, the neediest Americans have taken up residence. Indeed, out of these 70 charitable contributions, more than 50 were directed toward our Ivy league and other universities and colleges which so obviously are in great need to help the needy. The New York City museums, also notorious for harboring the poor, were the recipients of several tens of millions from our top donors.

Who would dare question the generous and charitable character of these self-perpetuating donations -- of course, charity does not begin at home? Certainly not the needy who can mercifully depend on the generosity of our free-market politicians and the New York Times Neediest Cases Fund (which, to date, has recorded just over 2 million dollars in donations, to be weighed against the gift of $20 million by F. and S. Rose to the American Museum of Natural History...). And not us, the Middle Class, who respond so generously to the Billy Graham's commercials. Generosity again, generosity always.

We, the chosen, the best and most unselfish people in the world, may feel content with our self-proclaimed goodness and roam the malls for generous savings to reward our charitable deeds and -- let's repeat it one more time -- our limitless generosity. Ah, such good Christians we are!

Question: What do you think Christ would have thought of us?

Sing with me.

Published December 22, 1996
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