“Creative capitalism takes this interest in the fortunes of others and ties it to our interest in our own fortunes in ways that help advance both. This hybrid engine of self-interest and concern for others can serve a much wider circle of people than can be reached by self-interest or caring alone.”

 Is Wealth Amoral?

We see so many corporate villains in the news these days: petty plutocrats who view the world narrowly in terms of acquisition of wealth, that it gives one pause to wonder why MBA courses focus solely on wealth building and do not devote even a single course to the real value of wealth – its use for the improvement of society, culture and humanity.

The political divide can be viewed along this schism as well: those elitists who emphasize the Ayn Rand’s individual (ie. the privileged elite mindset) and, on the other, those who believe that it the moral obligation of a wealthy individual to give back to society in some form (that is to say that wealth serves a higher purpose than simply benefiting a single individual and his/her immediate circle of cronies.)

Rand advocated ethical egoism while rejecting ethical altruism. She opposed all forms of collectivism and statism, supporting laissez-faire capitalism, which she believed was the only social system that could protect individual rights. The Objectivist movement she inspired has been a significant influence among libertarians and American conservatives. While there are those who have bought into this notion in philosophical terms, in reality it has become another meme that serves the interests of the wealthy and powerful in their war against the 99%. From the United States to North Korea, elites believe wealth and power to be amoral, existing to perpetrate themselves and promote the interests of a privileged few. The suffering caused by the policies and practices of these individuals shows that wealth is not amoral, and to pretend otherwise is in fact immoral.

Wealth Deployment Pioneer

But there are still those who understand that wealth and power are not amoral, and that it carries with it a moral imperative – the obligation to do more than just hoard it but to use it in an enlightened way that spreads its benefits most effectively and efficiently. Bill Gates is one of these enlightened corporate citizens. Here is a brief overview of Gates’ philanthropic career, summarizing Wikipedia’s account.

As the former chief executive and current chairman of Microsoft, the world’s largest personal-computer software company, co-founded with Paul Allen, Bill Gates is ranked among the world’s wealthiest people. He was the wealthiest overall from 1995 to 2009, excluding 2008, when he was ranked third, and in 2011 he was the wealthiest American and the second wealthiest person. He remains the largest individual shareholder, with 6.4% of the common stock.  In 2011, Bill Gates was ranked as the fifth most powerful person in the world, according to rankings by Forbes magazine.

While Gates had been criticized for anti competitive business tactics, in the later stages of his career, he has pursued a number of philanthropic endeavors, donating large amounts of money to various charitable organizations and scientific research programs through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, established in 2000. He stepped down as chief executive officer of Microsoft in January 2000 (while remaining as chairman) and transitioned to full-time work at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He is in that sense a charitable pioneer, someone who has transitioned from wealth acquisition wealth deployment.

Responding to the expectations others had of him when public opinion suggested that he could give more of his wealth to charity, Gates studied the work of philanthropists Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller. Today the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is the largest transparently operated charitable foundation in the world. That means that, unlike other major charitable organizations, the foundation allows benefactors access to information regarding how its money is being spent.

Gates models his giving in part on the Rockefeller family‘s philanthropic focus, especially those global problems that are most ignored by governments and other organizations. As of 2007, Bill and Melinda Gates were the second-most generous philanthropists in America, having given over $28 billion to charity.

They plan to eventually give 95% of their wealth to charity.

Maximizing Charitable ROI

The foundation invests assets that it has not yet distributed with the exclusive goal of maximizing return on investment, which has been criticized for investments in companies that have been charged with worsening poverty in the same developing countries where the Foundation is attempting to relieve poverty, including companies that pollute heavily, and pharmaceutical companies that do not sell into the developing world. Although he announced in 2007 a review of its investments, to assess social responsibility, the foundation subsequently canceled the review and stood by its policy of investing for maximum return.

Influencing Others

Gates and his wife invited Joan Salwen to Seattle to speak about the philanthropic efforts of the Salwen family, which had sold its home and given away half of its value, as detailed in The Power of Half. As a result, on December 9, 2010, Gates, investor Warren Buffett, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg signed the “Gates-Buffet Giving Pledge, promising to donate at least half of their wealth over the course of time to charity.