Gates, Buffet, Ellison, Walton, and Koch: Here’s What We Want for Christmas

After 30 years of “greed is good” even Gordon Gekko is having second thoughts. Arguably, the extreme accumulation of wealth promoted by Reagan-style politics is finally producing the first hints of what might be an entirely new age of philanthropy. After the steel and railroad magnates were allowed to amass huge fortunes, they gave back at least a fraction of the wealth to libraries and universities and museums. Something similar seems to be emerging now.

The poster child for the new philanthropy is the Gates-Buffet plans to give away billions, much of it to health and human services programs in the developing world. Whatever criticism you might have of these efforts, they are at least an attempt to get at root causes. As dramatic as the Buffer Gates plan sounds, between them and the other top five billionaires, there’s more than a 100 billion dollars in their hands. I know what I would like for Christmas.

I think that if these new philanthropists really want to create a permanent, long lasting change they should get together and agree to donate at least 10% of their fortunes to a permanent fund for college. They could then browbeat the next, say, twenty or thirty richest people for another 10 or 15 billion. That would create a permanent fund worth 20 to 30 billion or more. The application for funds should be short and simple and leave everything else up to the colleges.

If you can get into the college of your choice, community college to Harvard, the fund will pay. If you can stay in college, that is if you can meet the requirements of full time status at the college of your choice, the fund would continue to pay until you graduate. The only requirement is that you could not work elsewhere for money– internships and the like are fine. The fund would be generous too, paying room and board, a stipend for incidentals, as well as textbooks.

You can use the fund once in your life for an undergraduate degree, but it could be used it at any time in your life. The fund is a sliding scale. If your family makes less than $150,000 a year in combined income, the fund would pay 100%; it would pay less in small increments until your income reaches $300,000. At that point you don’t need any help. In a single swoop philanthropy could lay the foundation of a completely different culture and economy.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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