It must be sweet to be super-rich and also bathed in public adulation, as were the 40 super-rich people who just pledged to give away at least half their wealth. This was prominent news around the country, and most coverage was sheer hero worship.
What the coverage missed and should have reflected is disdain. The super-rich being showered with praise — such as John Doerr, Paul Allen, David Rubenstein — haven’t necessarily given away half of their wealth. They only said they planned to make fantastic donations in the future. The media coverage suggests something important has happened. All that’s happened is promises.
Congress plans to cut the deficit. Practically everyone plans to lose weight. FORTY PEOPLE ANNOUNCE THEY WILL LOSE WEIGHT IN A FEW YEARS would not make any front page. Yet the super-rich — who already enjoy too much of what society has to offer — are now warmly being praised for the trivial act of saying they might do something admirable at an unspecified future date.
If a super-rich person intends to give away half of his or her wealth, why not simply do it right now? Announcing you plan to do something admirable — rather than just doing it — is self-flattery, amplified by media hype.
Those signing the Giving Pledge got to pat themselves on the backs and get to pretend to be splendid benefactors. But their bank accounts appear to remain under lock and key.