The Coming Buffett Windfall

The way Warrern Buffett describes himself, he is like Dirk Diggler: he has one thing he is good at, and he's going to do it as long as he can. He makes money. Spending it — or giving it away– takes a different skill set, one he is not interested in developing. He lives in the same Omaha house he bought for $30,000 in 1957 and drives his own Lincoln Towncar. Apparently, he would rather use what he has to make more. What he does donate mostly goes to abortion-rights work. He is an advisor to the Nucelar Threat Initiative, according to Wikipedia, and plugged their film Last Best Chance (which also received support from the Macarthur and Carnegie Foundations) at last year's Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting and in the press.)

He has apparently said that he will direct 99% of his holdings ($40 billion) to charity upon his death. By my count that will make him the largest US philanthropist ever. By comparison, George Soros has donated about $600 million over the last decade, the Gates Foundation has an endowment of $29 billion (both figures from the Slate 60 article on competitive philanthropy), and Google.org appears to be endowed with less than $1 billion. I am not pining for Warren Buffett's death, but the distirbution of his $40 billion will clearly be a signal event that will alter entire fields. (Think of the effect Joan Kroc's $200 million gift to NPR has had.)

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