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April 26, 2013 / politicsbitesize

The Social Responsibility of the Rich

givingOver the most recent decades Gordon Gecko’s belief that ‘greed is good’ has become the prescribed morality for people of all generations.  The desire to attain objects that will symbolise one’s social status whatever the financial cost has thrust a large number of people into debt.  It has also skewed the idea of what is valuable and what is not.  This desire, when coupled with a prevailing individualist ideology that advocates that interests of the individual should achieve precedence over a social group, has lead to the demise of the notion of collective social responsibility.

It has been suggested that shortly before her death Margaret Thatcher had said that she regretted the fact that a large number of wealthy individuals had expressed no social responsibility in their quest for riches.  She stated that she was extremely disappointed that her belief in the economic freedom of the individual had led to a lack of moral obligation felt by the richest in society toward the poorest.

But not all of those that are rich are selfish and greedy or lack a sense of obligation toward others.  This week Lord Ashcroft, the billionaire Conservative peer, has joined the likes of Bill Gates and Richard Branson by signing a pledge to give away a large proportion of his wealth to charity.  He states that upon the event of his death, ‘more than 80 per cent of my assets — and I never discuss how much I am worth — will be left to a charitable foundation in my name’.

He is expected to sign the Giving Pledge next month and in doing so he joins other billionaires, such as Warren Buffett and Mark Zuckerberg, in giving away a substantial amount to charity.  On its website the Giving Pledge states that its aim is, ‘to help address society’s most pressing problems by inviting the world’s wealthiest individuals and families to commit to giving more than half of their wealth to philanthropy or charitable causes either during their lifetime or after their death’.

So far over 100 billionaires have signed statements articulating their reasons for donating up to 90% of their wealth to philanthropic or charitable causes. Each person, or couple, has a ‘pledger profile’, which includes a signed pledge that states why and how they are sharing their wealth.

The project is a good one and it shows that there is a sense of moral obligation amongst some of the richest members of society.  If this can be coupled with a robust manifesto for responsible capitalism, akin to the seven steps outlined by Ed Miliband in March 2013, then maybe, just maybe, the individualistic notion that greed is good can be laid to rest in the 21st century.

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