Once upon a time, a fair number of very rich people had a sense of obligation to the society in which they did so well, including both children of wealth who learned about philanthropy and maybe a duty to stand for office along with the difference between a sheet and a sail and which side of a horse to mount from, and people who made their own fortunes: Andrew Carnegie famously said it was sinful to die rich (you can read about him in your local Carnegie Library).

Mostly this decency was expressed in philanthropy, endowing and supporting America’s distinctive great foundations, charities, universities, and arts institutions; sometimes getting into politics directly (the Roosevelts, Rockefellers, etc.) and not just to tilt the financial pinball machine in their direction. Warren Buffett, who wasn’t born with a silver trust fund in his cradle (but whose father was a congressman) gets it, and calls out his fellow zillionaires in a piece that deserves a lot more attention, and gratitude.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

Michael O'Hare

Michael O'Hare is a Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley.