Over the past year, at a series of secret dinners held under a “cone of silence”, some of the world’s wealthiest people have been plotting a giant conspiracy that could, literally, change the world.

The men behind the conspiracy are America’s two richest individuals, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, and the details of their plotting were revealed in a Fortune magazine cover story a few weeks ago.

The plot is big, but a simple one: to sign up the wealthiest people in America to legally pledge at least 50% of their net worth to charity during their lifetimes or at death. Gates and Buffett have already been leading the way, of course, by giving away most of their respective fortunes through Gates’s philanthropic foundation.

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Today in Crikey, the Australian philanthropist Daniel Petre reflects on whether the 50% pledge could ever be achieved in Australia — and concludes that our richest people are so greedy and selfish that it couldn’t happen. That’s because our most consistently philanthropic, very rich families allocate less than 5% of their net worth to philanthropy and, on average, our wealthy appear to allocate around 1% of their net worth to philanthropy. Writes Petre:

We seem to see a donation of $5 million or $10 million from a billionaire, or one with many hundreds of millions, as something wonderfully generous and worthy of a national honour. Very simply a gift of $5 million from a billionaire is less in pro-rata terms than the average giving of a normal Australian on a normal average salary.

So either we stop lauding thanks for the crumbs offloaded by our most wealthy, or we start offering similar thanks to Mrs Smith whose $100 donation is a greater proportion of her net wealth.

The lucky country? Bah, humbug.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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