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Andrew Carnegie

Billionaires are under scrutiny and critiques are driven largely by global frustration around income inequality. Indeed, Andrew Carnegie famously argued in his essay series, “The Gospel of Wealth,” that the rich should donate their money to the greater good in order to end uneven distribution of wealth. A significant batch of the world’s wealthiest have recently embraced this philosophy by signing “The Giving Pledge,” an initiative created by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet that enlists billionaires to pledge to donate over half their wealth to charitable causes.

Still, with a plethora of potential areas to allocate money, the specific causes billionaires focus on certainly have an extensive impact on how their money affects the less fortunate. So, where are some billionaires donating their wealth?

  • The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation mainly targets poverty reduction, although it also tackles public health, global development and growth, advocacy, and education.
  • George Soros has donated over $32 billion to his organization, the Open Society Foundations, which maintains a broad mission that includes combating global injustices, fostering social change, and promoting freedom of thought.
  • One of the world’s most notorious billionaires, Jeff Bezos, has been criticized heavily over a lack of charitable giving. In September, 2018, Bezos responded to this critique by announcing the creation of the $2 billion “Day One Fund,” which focuses on providing assistance to the homeless and strengthening early childhood education.
  • The Koch brothers have given millions of dollars to promote their libertarian and conservative philosophies. Charles Koch has donated tens of millions to Utah State University, founding the Koch Scholars program and giving a $25 million donation that spurred the creation of a think tank, the Center for Growth and Opportunity.
  • Michael Bloomberg’s organization, Bloomberg Philanthropies, addresses climate change, education reform, public sector accountability, the coal industry and tobacco use, among other issues. Bloomberg is also known as a powerful political donor – during the 2018 election cycle he gave over $95 million to political causes (84% of that went to Democrats while 4% went to Republicans).
  • Stephen Schwarzman, co-founder of Blackstone, gave $350 million to the research of artificial intelligence at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He also donated $100 million to the New York Public Library in 2008.
  • Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan started the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, which gives grants to organizations in Science, Education, and Justice & Opportunity.

From these examples arise several potential conclusions. First, billionaires clearly donate to causes that align with their specific interests, and these interests can be wide-ranging. Many billionaires start their own foundations which focus on different causes. Some of these causes do directly reduce inequality: for instance, poverty reduction, education reform, and the promotion of social justice are common focus issues.

However, political affiliations and views are also quite influential when it comes to donations, as evidenced by donations from the Koch brothers and Bloomberg. Donations such as these can either hinder or help the reduction of inequality, and they don’t directly put money or resources into the hands of the less fortunate. Also, some charity initiatives appear to follow billionaires’ interests rather than directly help “the greater good,” as Andrew Carnegie desired. For instance, science and technology research will not immediately reduce inequality, although such innovation may certainly help to do so in the long term.

Will future donations shift more towards assisting the direct reduction of inequality, and who will be the biggest donors by the end of 2019? Mackenzie Bezos, now ex-wife of Jeff Bezos, is a potential candidate, having signed The Giving Pledge on May 25. Mackenzie founded The Bystander Revolution, an anti-bullying project, in 2014, so her future projects may center on this area as well. With a net worth of more than $36 billion, though, it’s likely that her future philanthropic endeavors will tackle various issues. Stay tuned for updates on where Mackenzie Bezos and other billionaires are donating their wealth in 2019.

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