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Jewish World Review
Dec. 13, 2006
/ 22 Kislev, 5767
Are the rich cheap?
I've pointed out in recent weeks that the American people are the most
generous in the world.
But I was surprised to learn the working poor give a larger percentage
of their income than the rich. Last week I did a TV special, "Cheap in
America," in which I playfully gave some billionaires a hard time about
what they don't give to charity.
Ted Turner is giving $1 billion to the United Nations. He got lots of
great publicity for that, and he told me that he'd like to give away
more, but he was too poor. "I've given away so much, and lost so much.
It's all I can do. I'm doing all I can. I'm worried about the viability
of our Social Security. I want to be sure that I have enough money to
make it through, you know, my old age, when I finally do retire, at
But he still has $2 billion left. Isn't that enough? "Not enough! Not in
the way inflation you know, I was worth $10 billion about four, five
years ago, and I lost eight of it, so the other two could evaporate
Dan Duncan had a different excuse. He's made $7 billion by finding
cheaper ways to pipe natural gas and oil from place to place. He and his
wife have given millions to charity, but their gifts are only about 2
percent of his net worth.
I suggested that maybe he was "cheap," and he answered: "Sometimes
you're better off to hold on to that money longer and make it bigger."
His wife, Jan, added, "It takes money to make money so that we'll have
more to give away."
That may have sounded cheap to my TV audience, but it's actually a
pretty good reason for Duncan not to give to charity. Great business
creators like Duncan and Turner waste their skills if they just give
money away. They do more for the world by creating businesses. Turner
started with 12 employees. By the time he merged CNN with Time Warner,
he employed 12,000 people.
Is there a better way to help the poor than by creating jobs
opportunities for self-improvement? And when businesses make useful
products cheaper and more plentiful, that helps the poor more than
charity. Discount retailers like Wal-Mart help low-income people
tremendously. Would Sam Walton have done as much for the poor by giving
all his money to charity? I don't think so.
That's what T.J. Rodgers, founder of Cypress Semiconductor, thought when
Turner gave $1billion to the United Nations, a bureaucracy famous for
squandering money. "What he said is patently stupid," Rodgers told me.
"What he should do is take his money and invest it. And to have the
companies and buildings and plants that are created with his investment
create jobs and wealth and products for other people. So running around
giving his money away is a way to maybe make himself feel good. But it
sure as hell isn't a good way to help people!"
It's a shocking comment in this season of giving, but it's also a good
point. We lavish praise on the philanthropist, but you can't give away
what hasn't been created.
Philosopher David Kelley put it this way. "Why do we think that giving
away money is better than making money? Giving away money is a lot
easier than building a new business or a new industry where you've
created something that didn't exist before. I have a lot more respect
for Ted Turner for building CNN at a time when no one thought it was
possible than I have for any possible good he could do as a
I'll still give 20 percent of my income to charity, because I'm not good
at building businesses. But for those of you who are, no need to
apologize for creating wealth.
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Myths, Lies and Downright Stupidity: Get Out the Shovel --- Why Everything You Know Is Wrong
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Distributed by Creators Syndicate, Inc.
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