By Aris Michopoulos, Ph.D., HCHC
Special to the Hellenic News of America
I recently saw a TV interview of Warren Buffett, the most philanthropic billionaire in America, who was imploring the government to stop fighting with the Democrats and both agree to a new Relief Package to help the people who were suffering due to Covid-19. Indeed a week later the two parties agreed to a new package. Buffett mentioned the plight of people who don’t have money for food or pay their rent or other bills and can be evicted in a month. He also mentioned the dire condition of many small shop-owners who can’t pay their bills or of others who were forced to close their business after many years and some who had to go to food banks to feed their families. Then in the Greek-American press and other media, we read and hear similar stories. We hear of stores that were forced to close because of Covid-19 after thirty or forty years in operation. We hear of people who get sick and the entire family runs not only a health risk but also a financial ruin if the situation lasts a few more weeks. We read of a man with a large family who lost his job, could not pay his mortgage, could not feed his children, and was in grave danger of losing everything. Our schools and churches are suffering. Our schools are losing students because parents cannot afford the tuition, as they lost their job.
All the above give us a grim picture and remind us of the Great Depression when people would buy Life Insurance and then commit suicide so that their family could collect the insurance premium and survive during that disastrous period. It was at that time that the Insurance Companies became “smart” and would not pay the insurance money if the person would commit suicide during the first year of insurance. And that is true to this day. Then I pondered on the life of Warren Buffett. Born poor be became a millionaire at the age of 30 and for several years he was the richest man in America with over $50 billion. And he created his wealth by buying and selling stocks. Not an easy way to become a billionaire. But what is the most amazing about Buffett is his philosophy of giving back to society through philanthropy. He has already given to his friend Bill Gates over $35 billion to use in his Foundation for general philanthropy. Equally amazing is the percentage that he thinks the billionaires should give back to society. The right amount he says is 99%! He simply thinks that since they made their money from the society they live in, they should return 99% of this money to their needy fellow-citizens. However, he is less demanding from his fellow billionaires. He urges them to pledge 50% of their wealth to philanthropy, in order to be able to join the Giving Pledge group. And in 2010 he formed, along with Bill and Melinda Gates the Giving Pledge Foundation. To become a member of this club you have to pledge at least 50% of your wealth to philanthropy. Believe it or not in 2020 there were 211 billionaires from 23 countries who had become members of the club. The largest group is that of American billionaires (40 in 2010) and among them are three Greek Americans.
Putting all this together, one wonders if there is a solution to the multitude of problems that our Omogeneia faces today in America. Thinking of that names and numbers pop up in your mind. We all know someone rich and several of them are philanthropic to the various needs of our Omogeneia. What we sorely lack, however, is the coordination and unity of our actions. In a way, we lack a system and an infrastructure that will withstand the test of time and will always be there to help the poor, the needy, the widows, the orphans; an infrastructure to build and support our schools, to tend to the sick and invalid and take care of many other problems. And the problem is not the money! We have plenty of money. And we have plenty of billionaires and three of them took the Buffett Pledge. We need a system and an organization of our efforts. The fifty wealthiest Greek Americans are worth more than 50 billion dollars! And twenty of them are billionaires. If they would pledge 1% of their wealth, not 50% that Buffett suggests, to create a Philanthropic Foundation for the poor the Omogeneia would not face any problem. One percent of 50 billion is 500 million dollars. A good management of this amount would yield around 30-50 million dollars (6%-10%) year after year! With that amount, we could take care of the poor, of the sick, of our schools, of our churches, of the victims of many other adversities like Covid-19 that appear from time to time. This is the way well-organized societies and communities operate. And this is what our Omogeneia needs!
There might be some distrustful who will be concerned about the running of that Philanthropic Foundation. There are many that have heard stories of stealing, abuse and misappropriation of funds, especially during the post-civil war period in Greece from the funds given by the American Government or Greek American organizations. To allay these fears, we will ask the billionaires to run this Foundation themselves, with its own Board, and every year, as all major foundations, to be audited. Moreover, every year it could publish its budget and money given to each charitable purpose for all to see. Or give the money to Fidelity or a similar firm to manage. That is what the Leadership-100 is doing every year and nobody has disputed the figures. The difference is that the L-100 has just reached, after 30+ years, the amount of $100 million in assets, while the one we propose here would automatically have over 500 million in assets!
And as the L-100 has supported so many worthy causes over the years, the new Foundation can do much more and bring the Omogeneia to a new high level! It would promote cohesion and philanthropy among our fellow Greeks and help reduce the financial anomoiogeneia in our Omogeneia! In other words, it could transform our way of thinking, behaving and feeling and could turn all of us into philanthropists, since most people who get help, give back to society. What I am proposing here the Jews are doing it on a regular basis. They maintain 10 universities, 5 Schools of Theology, they have several hospitals (Beth Israel, etc.) and Old Age homes, and they even financially support Israel. It is a tragic irony when one thinks that the Greeks “invented” the concept of philanthropy and gave it to the rest of the world, but the Jews are the ones that practice it more than us and anybody else. That should make us pause and ponder on our thoughts and actions. Let us make this a healthy, happy, prosperous, and philanthropic new year. Let us turn our noble dreams into a reality! Γένοιτο!