Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Some Bankroll Anger – Others Bankroll Compassion

There are more than 400 billionaires in the United States but being a billionaire doesn’t make a person generous or compassionate.  In fact, research shows the rich give a smaller proportion of income to charity than those who are poor.

While three of these billionaires are bankrolling the so-called spontaneously angry Tea Party’s effort to roll back a new measure that will make healthcare (not just life) within reach of nearly “everyone” rich or poor – two others have vowed to give away 90% of their wealth during their lifetime and have enlisted 41 others to follow their lead in an effort to, among other things, reduce poverty.gates-foundation-logo

A quote by one of these progressive billionaires has been running repeatedly through my head since I heard it uttered last Sunday in a television interview:

“Education is the thing that will determine if this country is as strong and JUST as it wants to be.”  Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft interviewed on CBS 60 Minutes

I’m sure Gene Nichol couldn’t agree more with the word “JUST” and he has information on his website breaking down North Carolinians in poverty by educational attainment: 

  • No high school diploma: 25.8%
  • High school diploma: 12.9%
  • Some college or associate degree: 8.6%
  • Bachelor degree or higher: 3.3%

    Nichol, who heads up the Center for Poverty, Work and Opportunity, at the law school located on a nearby campus (one of sixteen) of the University of North Carolina, also knows why it is so easy for white Americans to be oblivious to the issue of poverty:

    Poverty by Race in North Carolina
    • White: 10.3%
    • African American: 25.1%
    • Hispanic: 27.1%
    • Native American: 24.2%
    • Asian: 11.2%

    It seems to me that we can’t truly live up to our self-image as Americans, if we continue to tolerate poverty.  We must stop hiding behind the self-righteous fiction that any of us is “self-made” and/or that all people need to do to emerge from poverty is to “get with it.”

    For every person in poverty who is there due to laziness or dependency or criminal behavior or skipping school or gaming the system or milking safety-nets, there are thousands and thousands of earnest, well-intentioned individuals working several jobs, raising kids, fighting through economic and medical hardships and given the “right” opportunities could have become middle-class and some even billionaires.

    Just as for every billionaire or millionaire who got there with hard work or as Bill Gates modestly credits, great access to opportunity, we find many others just inherited wealth or were beneficiaries of dumb luck or ran scams or obtained it by ripping others off.  In other words, many missed falling into poverty by a split-hair.

    As I scribbled in notes recently during a speech in Durham by Nichol (and paraphrased pretty closely here,) we need to live up to our defining nation-promise by recognizing our neighbors as brothers and sisters rather than strangers removed from the fates we claim as our own.

    That’s just what Bill and Melinda Gates are doing.  Rather than hoarding wealth or whining about issues around inheritance, they’ve already explained to their three children what they plan to do instead with 90% of their wealth so these young people can be free to find their own passion and purpose.

    Rather than regurgitating the zero-sum rhetoric puppeted to them them by those covertly fueling the Tea Party, more journalists should reveal it as a selfish ploy and direct attention instead on those who are using their wealth to so something constructive about poverty.

    Poverty is indeed a shame on us all as Americans!

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