Mark Winston Griffith
Warren Buffett: Working Class Hero
It's a serious commentary on our times when the second wealthiest man in the world has become a leading spokesperson for social equality. While Warren Buffet has been headlining the news over the past week for pledging most of his shares in Berkshire Hathaway, $31 billion, to the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, the really juicy story has been Buffett's running critique of "dynastic wealth."
Over the last ten or fifteen years a lot of attention within the community development world has focused on asset-building as a way to address economic inequality. After decades of social welfare policies that have been designed to provide supplemental income and safety nets for the poor, there's an increasing realization that assets, particularly those handed down over generations, are a major determinant of how a family accumulates wealth.
Make no mistake, Buffett has set up his children beautifully, handing down to them personal wealth as well as capitalization for their own pet foundations. But Buffett has admirably elected to leave the bulk of his fortune, not to his heirs, but to efforts to address world health issues and poverty. In doing so, Buffett has helped place the notion of "welfare" in its proper context. The New York Times reported that Buffet "gets particularly upset at his country club, he said, hearing members complain about welfare mothers getting food stamps 'while they are trying to leave their children a more-than-lifetime-supply of food stamps and are substituting a trust officer for a welfare officer.'"
The National Review virtually called Buffett a class traitor because he is going around the country denouncing efforts to repeal the estate tax. Conservatives become so apoplexic whenever you mention the estate tax because it represents welfare reform for the rich.
What is perhaps most interesting about Buffett is that more than any other high profile member of the uber-rich, he walks almost as good a game as he talks. According to Wikipedia, "Buffett is famous for his unpretentious and frugal lifestyle. He continues to live in the same house in Omaha he bought in 1958 for $31,500, although he also owns a summer house in Laguna Beach, California. His annual salary from Berkshire Hathaway of $100,000 is nominal by the standards of senior executive remuneration in the United States."
If other corporate titans were to think and act like Buffett, oh my, what a different world it would be.