In 1994 a successful investment banker in San Francisco, Claude Rosenberg, Jr., published Wealthy and Wise. Based on the tax laws, he argued, America’s richest citizens could do better financially for both themselves and the country by donating from their net assets versus their income. Rosenberg had done so himself by establishing a foundation. To be honest, as someone who has never amassed much money, I tend to consider the rich, per Jesus, as likely to have a hard squeeze getting into Heaven. Pure envy, I’m sure. Yet I can’t ignore Bill and Melinda Gates, who have used many of their billions to establish the world’s largest private foundation, now doing so much to lessen HIV-AIDS in Africa among other good works.
Or take an example I found some years ago in an issue of the New Yorker. There, in “The Dictator Index—A Billionaire Battles a Continent’s Legacy of Misrule” by Ken Auletta, I met a Sudanese-born Muslim named Mo Ibrahim. At the time a 64-year-old self-made billionaire—among the few in Africa—he created one of the continent’s first mobile-phone networks. When he sold the business, he might have bought himself a yacht and sailed off into a sunset of luxurious living. Instead, he established the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, which bestows a $5 million annual prize on “an African leader who is elected to office, promotes democracy, does not steal from the people, and cedes power peacefully.” It also maintains the Ibrahim Index of African Governance to assess the continent’s 53 governments for the relative presence or absence of oppression and corruption. The Foundation then runs large ads in Africa’s newspapers to announce the most recent results. In America we love rags-to-riches stories and generally want to star in one ourselves. Should we be blessed with material wealth, however, we would do well to remember the advice of our iconic benefactor, Ben Franklin, to be healthy, wealthy, and wise. Bill and Melinda Gates and Mo Ibrahim can show us the way.