Wednesday, September 3, 2008

A Utopian Buffet

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!

I am wrestling with Wednesday, or “hump day” for so many of us. It’s not too bad though. I will be heading to Milwaukee for pictures and dinner with fellow college seminarians and with some of the formation staff in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. The homework load is already becoming hectic, even at this innocent, early part of the semester. I will see what academic storms are on the horizon and I pray that my ship can stay afloat! Please realize I would love to post more often on the network, but it is difficult to find the time to sit down and write a post I am confident in sharing with the public. I will do my best to make time for a most soothing of practices–––blogging.

Today, I want to just talk shortly about a modern day tycoon. I want to talk about a rich person, a really, really rich person? Is this the same kid who went to El Salvador in May and experienced a haunting display of poverty? Or the same kid who struggles to find and fine-tune his own voice of justice in a country he knows needs fixing? Is this honestly the kid who, question as he might some of the teachings of his own church, finds solace and inspiration in much of the social justice and economic teaching of the Catholic Church? Yes it is. I want to talk about a tycoon who seems to have some heart, Warren Buffet.

We talked about Buffet, the multi-billionaire U.S. citizen, in my political science course today. I learned something about this rich, rich person that surprised and intrigued me. Apparently, Buffet, on several occasions, has gone in front of congress to lobby for an incredibly high death tax to be paid by those, like himself, who make a giant wad of money. He thinks it is his duty, because he was born into a society that enabled him to grow in his own understanding of investing and economics, to, after he dies, return a majority of the money he has made on investments back to the country he was born in. Buffet would like his children to receive one million dollars from his estate and the U.S. government the rest. In the case of Buffet, this is incredibly generous. He is the world’s third wealthiest man, or something like that. He is a billionaire more times than we can count using all our fingers and toes. Even an octopus would have a hard time using its tentacles to count how many times over Buffet is a billionaire. Point being, Buffet is rich. But he wants that money to go back to the states that, in part, allowed him get to the financial state he rests in. I find this admirable.

Coincidentally, I am in the middle of reading Utopia (written in 1516), a classic written by Sir Thomas More. This man, a gifted lawyer, member of the king’s court, under sheriff of London, dedicated father and husband, and, in time remembered as a saint of the Catholic Church, was an incredibly gifted individual who presented some radical political and social ideas in Utopia. He riffed off of some of the concepts of the ancient philosophers, especially Aristotle, to create a story of a society where people seem to live in what we would now refer to as, thanks to the title More gave the land, an “utopia.” In the story, one of the characters Raphael described as an “aloof idealist” in the anthology I am reading from has this to say about the different classes in his society.

“The rich are rapacious, wicked, and useless, while the poor are unassuming, modest men who work hard, more for the benefit of the public than of themselves.”

What Raphael has to say holds some truth in that some people truly worship money, especially in the United States. I am sure we can all point to times in our life when, as middle class citizens, we allowed money to overwhelm our five sense to a point difficult to return to. Money can become an addiction just like sex or drugs or eating.

However, when some really, really rich person like Warren Buffet desires to give his money away when he dies, and to give to charity while he lives, then it seems safe to say he is willing to part with the worldly object enough to find the real kingdom.

The gospel has this to say about the rich: Jesus said to his disciples, "I can guarantee this truth: It will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven.”

I propose that Warren Buffet, driver of a 2001 Lincoln Town Car, advocate of an incredibly high death tax, giver of money to the poor, has a place in the kingdom. It seems to me he is already living in the kingdom, living in a spirit of giving and detachment from his money. At least he realizes his money shouldn’t be “Scrooged.” So, instead of playing the Jacob Marley, he plays the Scrooge who didn’t need to be haunted by the spirits. Instead, Buffet is giving back. As you know if you’ve spent some time with me, I’m not an economic conservative by any stretch of the imagination. Nevertheless, I have to give credit where credit is due. From what I heard about Warren Buffet in my class today, I would say he deserves a nod from us who breathe the air of thousands, not billions.

Peace friends and have a great rest of your week!

With love,

Your friend bob.

1 comment:

Rick S said...

I too believe that Warren Buffet is a great philanthropist and will go down in history as the most generous human ever. As you may or may not know he has teamed with Bill Gates (Microsoft) to form the largest private charity ever. I believe this is the best way for him and others to channel their fortune--not the government. Government agencies typically waste two-thirds of their funds in bureaucracy and "overhead" with only a few cents per dollar going to the needy. For Buffet to lobby in favor of the death tax is ridiculous and flies in the face of his knack for sound investments as giving the government money is like throwing it down a rat hole. I believe with all my heart in charitable giving. I also do not believe in leaving a huge fortune to your heirs. With the exception of those incapable, handicapped or destitute due to outside forces beyond their control, I believe each person needs to earn their own way through life. This is good for your own feeling of self-worth and good for your soul. If Buffet were to be consistant he would urge that all people follow his lead and leave their fortune to charity. He should not be in favor of forcing people to relinquish their life earnings to an impersonal and wasteful government. Charity needs to come from the heart--not by force.