It’s a rich man’s world, like it or not.
In recent years, the income gap has expanded greatly. Consequently, greater wealth is concentrated in fewer hands. Some have grown angry at the inequality and there have even been claims that we currently live in a second Gilded Age. In this light, capital accumulation has become the enemy.
It is easy to label wealth accumulation as negative, harmful or even evil. Yet in the past, as well as today, wealthy philanthropists have demonstrated that self-accumulated capital can be mobilized for social development. Notable historical examples include John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie of the early 20th century. Philanthropists like them follow a simple two-step pattern: First accumulate wealth, and then invest in critical social causes.
Today, Warren Buffett is a paragon of successful philanthropy. His estimated net worth is $65.5 billion, after donating $28.5 billion so far. Moreover, he has pledged to give away 99 percent of his wealth, with a majority to be allocated to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the rest to go to foundations established by his children and other selected charities. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has increased millions’ access to healthcare and education on a global scale. The latter organizations tackle issues like violence against women, endangered mammals, early childhood education and urban community development.
All of Buffett’s philanthropic endeavors are transparent. He does not manage the money he donates, and the organizations he supports follow the IRS tax guidelines. “I don’t believe in dynastic wealth,” he once famously quoted in agreeance with his friend Bill Gates. If this is the case, then how could wealth accumulation not be celebrated?
Unfortunately, wealth accumulation is not celebrated because it is all too often abused. Donald TrumpDonald TrumpJan. 6 committee chair says panel will issue a 'good number' of additional subpoenas Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Pentagon officials prepare for grilling Biden nominates head of Africa CDC to lead global AIDS response MORE is a prime example. He is the exact opposite of a philanthropist, despite his estimated $3.7 billion net worth. Trump established the Trump Foundation in 1988. He has not donated to the foundation since 2008, in which he made a contribution of $30,000. Now the Trump Foundation collects money from outside donors and then disperses it, often times for Trump’s personal affairs. Allegedly, he has used Trump Foundation funds to buy himself a $20,000 painting and a $12,000 football helmet.
Clearly, Trump utilizes his wealth for his own benefit, while Buffett collectively shares his with people in need. One man takes what he can from the market and society, the other leaves billions behind for the sake of helping others.
Income inequality is an inevitable fact in the market economy. While policy makers are laboriously inventing tools to diminish the gap, the reality is that the super-wealthy are not disappearing any time soon. It is not a transgression to pursue financial success — that is the spirit of capitalism and a cornerstone of the American dream. What matters is how fortunes are utilized.
Just like with most things in life, it all comes down to choice. We need to have more super-wealthy like Buffett, who pursue capital and then practice collective sharing.
Chien-Chung Huang is a Columbia Ph.D. and the current director of Rutgers University’s Huamin Research Center, a public research institution that focuses on Chinese philanthropy.
Blair Donner is a research assistant at Huamin Research Institute. She is expected to graduate with a B.A. in Chinese and economics from Rutgers University School of Arts and Sciences this upcoming 2017.
The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.