THE WEALTHY REALLY ARE DIFFERENT… Even From Each Other

Negative Reaction to Charity Campaign                                                       German Billionaires Criticize Gates’ ‘Giving Pledge’

Germany’s super-rich have rejected an invitation by Bill Gates and Warren Buffet to join their ‘Giving Pledge’ to give away most of their fortune. ‘The Pledge’ has been criticized in Germany, with millionaires and billionaires saying donations shouldn’t replace duties better carried out by the state.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Warren Buffet personally invited billionaires around the world to donate half their money to charity. The “Giving Pledge” has been agreed to by 40 of the world’s wealthiest people, including Gates and Warren Buffet.

In Germany, though, “The Pledge” effort met with skepticism, irritation, and offence.

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So what’s up with Germany’s wealthy class?

Think they’re just selfish, greedy, and uncaring?

Think again…

“For most people that is too ostentatious,” offered the asset manager of one German billionaire contacted by Gates; he added further that many of the of the German wealthy contacted had already transferred larger proportions of their assets than the Americans to charitable foundations.

Several examples stood out.

Dietmar Hopp, co-founder of SAP business software company, has transferred more than €2.9 billion (or $3.8 billion US) to a foundation.

Klaus Tschira, another billionaire founder of SAP, has handed more than half his wealth to a foundation.

Peter Krämer, a Hamburg-based shipping magnate and billionaire, has emerged as one of the strongest critics of the “Giving Pledge.” Krämer donated more than 100 million euros in 2005 to “Schools for Africa,” a program operated by UNICEF, in addition to several other similar donations.

Krämer’s perspective and values reveal so much difference between the American and German — if not “European” in general — understanding of society, community, and social obligation… Would that Americans could evolve.

This German billionaire explained his and fellow German friends’ opposition to the Gates initiative in an interview with DER SPIEGEL news.

SPIEGEL: Forty super wealthy Americans have just announced that they would donate half of their assets, at the very latest after their deaths. As a person who often likes to say that rich people should be asked to contribute more to society, what were your first thoughts?

Krämer: I find the US initiative highly problematic. You can write donations off in your taxes to a large degree in the USA. So the rich make a choice: Would I rather donate or pay taxes? The donors are taking the place of the state. That’s unacceptable.

SPIEGEL: But doesn’t the money that is donated serve the common good?

Krämer: It is all just a bad transfer of power from the state to billionaires. So it’s not the state that determines what is good for the people, but rather the rich want to decide. That’s a development that I find really bad. What legitimacy do these people have to decide where massive sums of money will flow?

SPIEGEL: It is their money at the end of the day.

Krämer: In this case, 40 super-wealthy people want to decide what their money will be used for. That runs counter to the democratically legitimate state. In the end the billionaires are indulging in hobbies that might be in the common good, but are very personal.

SPIEGEL: Do the donations also have to do with the fact that the idea of state and society is such different one in the United States?

Krämer: Yes, one cannot forget that the US has a desolate social system and that alone is reason enough that donations are already a part of everyday life there. But it would have been a greater deed on the part of Mr. Gates or Mr. Buffet if they had given the money to small communities in the US so they can fulfill public duties.

SPIEGEL: Should wealthy Germans also give up some of their money?

Krämer: No, not in this form. It would make more sense, for example, to work with and donate to established organizations.

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