Additional Math Pages & Resources

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

How Much is More Than Enough

How much is more than enough?

An excellent question that math can help calculate, but not decide. Today's blog is about people who have decided they have more than enough. One honorable approach is to give the excess away. But where do you draw the line?  

How much is more than enough?

Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are encouraging billionaires to pledge the majority of their fortunes to charity. As of today, 40 billionaires have agreed. Here's an abbreviated version of their campaign:
The Giving Pledge invites the wealthiest individuals and families in America to give the majority of their wealth to philanthropic causes and charitable organizations during their lifetime or after their death.
Each person who chooses to pledge makes a statement publicly with a letter explaining their decision ... the Pledge is a moral commitment, not a legal contract. It does not involve pooling money or supporting causes or organizations.

The Giving Pledge focuses on billionaires, but is inspired by millions of Americans of all financial means and backgrounds who give generously to make the world a better place.
Just for fun, take a few moments and read some of their personal thoughts. The Giving Pledge website  tells you about the hearts of these wealthy folks.

How much is more than enough?

I first learned about exceptional giving 40 years ago, when I read about R. G. LeTourneau. First a laborer, then mechanic, he joked "I was such a small-time operator that I couldn't power a treadmill in a flea circus".

LeTourneau came to my attention because a huge shopping center was being built in the canyon behind my house, and the fields were full of giant tractors from his company. On weekends kids climbed all over them - we were the fleas on the elephants (so to speak).

LeTourneau became an earth-moving contractor, then a builder of road grading equipment, an inventor of hundreds of patents, and a very very rich man. The company he founded makes the largest earth-moving equipment in the world. Here's a loader that can lift 53 cubic yards of soil (72 tons) per scoop.

In addition to running his company and continuous inventing, LeTourneau started a university, was president of Gideons (hotel bibles), helped to fund the development of the nation of Liberia, etc. He said he gave not just 10% of his income to charity, but kept 10% and gave away 90%!

How much is more than enough?

I was stunned by his biography. How could anyone work hard to get money yet be so cheerful about giving it away? Is it just billionaires who do this? No, on the contrary billionaires aren't alone in their generosity - they are joined by the working poor. Both rich and poor groups give away twice as much (by percentage of income) as middle-class folks do.

The average annual donation in the USA is about $1650 per year, or 2.2% of household income. Average annual giving by religious families is $2,210, compared to $642 from secular families. The Hoover Institution says "Houses of worship teach their congregants the religious duty to give, and the physical and spiritual needs of the poor ... people may be more likely to learn charity inside a church, synagogue, or mosque than outside."

This matches what my accountant brother-in-law said to me one day, "We are trained in school to count money, grow the nest egg, and legally avoid taxes, NOT how to give money away."

How much is more than enough?