06 August 2020

Philanthropist shuns the "S.O.B.s"

A memorial obituary in today's New York Times is about Doris Buffett, who was entrusted with helping dispose of the enormous Buffett family fortune.
While he ran Berkshire Hathaway, the conglomerate that includes Dairy Queen, Duracell and Geico, Mr. Buffett entrusted his sister and a group of women she had recruited to sift the requests for financial help, assess their merits and monitor the impact of those that were granted.

In some cases they were sanctioned to satisfy more modest requests — for money to help pay for dental work, legal bills in custody cases, wheelchairs, automobile repairs, electric bills and the like.

Ms. Buffett’s own Sunshine Lady Foundation, which she founded in 1996, and, more recently, The Letters Foundation, which she and her brother founded, have focused tens of millions of dollars in large and small donations on individuals and organizations committed to educating prison inmates, battered women and low-income teenagers, and to improving the lives of the mentally ill while also easing the burden on their caregivers.

Ms. Buffett shunned what she called “the S.O.B.’s” — symphonies, operas and ballets — as recipients of largesse and instead concentrated on the underprivileged, as she did with The Letters Foundation.

“I rounded up a bunch of ladies, and we started reading letters,” she recalled. “Some of them were nutty, but most of them were from people who were genuinely desperate and just needed a little help” — “decent people who just didn’t have the breaks somebody else did.”..

Warren Buffett recalled in an interview that his sister, who was three years his senior, was always a “doer.”

“She would talk to every one of these people; she didn’t just write a check,” he said. “She was enormously empathetic and did something about it.”..

She, like him, wanted most of her fortune to be spent on solving problems in her lifetime.

“She really wanted her last check to bounce,” Mr. Buffett said.


  1. If you acquire billions you tend to do three things pay your employees to little, overcharge your customers, underpay the dividend and screw the taxman and then become the beloved old philanthropist?

  2. Philanthropist is a profession that should not exist.

    The problem with rich people is that they got rich by spending little. They're very good at not spending. Which goes contrary to just giving money away.

    They're also used to running companies full of accountants and bureaucrats that are very good at skirting the rules to keep more money. Which means they inherently won't trust others to be different. So, they end up creating complicated application and compliance requirements to make sure that the recipients of their money don't skirt the rules like they did themselves. And worse, the ego's of these people is so huge that they demand that their name is slapped is all over the results of their money.

    And so we get to the difference between charity and philanthropy. Charity is truly giving money away to the needy without conditions. Philanthropy is basically a business model where naming rights are bought in exchange for obscene amounts of money. Ever noticed that philanthropists all have a foundation in their name, instead of just giving their money to the many deserving charities, like the rest of us do?

    And finally, us regular folks spend a larger percentage of their money on charity than philanthropists do. And that's partially the reason why we don't become obscenely rich. It's just that because they're so obscenely wealthy that we're supposed to be impressed by the big numbers.

    1. I find it interesting that people feel free to make generalizations about rich people in a manner that they never would for poor people, or people of color, or women, or any of a number of other ways group people. Imagine starting a conversation with, "The problem with poor people," or "The problem with the Chinese."

      Certainly the world would be a far better place without people like Chuck Feeney, the Huntsmans, and even Bill Gates. Mr. Gates has thus far given away close to 50% of his net worth, and I'll admit that I am impressed by the big numbers. I am regular folk and I do not spend anywhere near half my net worth on charity. Sadly, he does have a foundation with his name on it. There is a garden with a little sitting area that a local library slapped my name on. The shame of it is immense...

    2. Imagine starting a conversation with, "The problem with poor people,"

      There are entire conferences and institutes dealing with poverty.

      I rest my case.

      Mr. Gates has thus far given away close to 50% of his net worth

      No he has not. Gates' net worth is still going up. Despite the many billions he has given away, and the worthy work that happens with that money.

      Which makes my point. The most outspoken philanthropist in the world is not able to give away his money faster than he makes it. And as a side-note: the Gates Foundation is notorious for the accountability paperwork they demand, similar (but off course different) to that of funding agencies like the NSF.

      We should raise taxes on the rich enormously, because if you can trust the government on one thing, it is that it will spend any money it gets and then some.

  3. ‘We’ need to be wary of those who say “We should tax”. If you don’t like the way they do it, go out and make billions and do it your way. You want to suggest we need follow what you think. I’m sure that when you run out of things to tax you will find someone or something else to correct.

    1. ‘We’ need to be wary of those who say “We should tax”.

      Taxation is an essential element of governance. So essential that it is the very condition for representation. No taxation without representation. (Well, except for residents of the District of Columbia, but that's a different story).

      You can argue about how much tax to levy and what to spend it on.

      But to pretend that taxation is something to be weary of, is to deny the reality. Without taxation there can be no public services and facilities like national defense, courts, education, infrastructure or indeed any government at all.

      Furthermore, saying that "they" tax is denying that the government derives its power from the people, including yourself.

      And no, I don't need to make my own billions to show how it's done because that doesn't change the reality that the people decide how billionaires are taxed. The point is not to get one billionaire to spend his money, it's to get all of them to do it. At the moment they are not capable, despite their express desire to do say. I say, we help them.


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