Peter Wilby approves of the “giving pledge” through which 40 billionaires have each promised to give half their fortune to charity but thinks much more systemic change in the ways the wealthy treat existing obligations of citizenship and corporate stewardship is more fundamentally necessary:
I repeat: we should welcome the Gates-Buffett initiative and applaud those who have joined it. Generous, public-spirited billionaires are preferable to mean ones. But remember that two-thirds of US corporations contrive to pay no federal income tax at all and that transfer pricing alone – a legal device, used, for instance, by Ellison’s Oracle Corp, that converts sales in one country to profits in another where tax liabilities are low – deprives the US treasury of $60bn annually. Such sums, which pile more taxes on the poor and reduce funds for government projects that advance the public good, dwarf what the 40 billionaires propose to give away.
If the rich really wish to create a better world, they can sign another pledge: to pay their taxes on time and in full; to stop lobbying against taxation and regulation; to avoid creating monopolies; to give their employees better wages, pensions, job protection and working conditions; to make goods and use production methods that don’t kill or maim or damage the environment or make people ill. When they put their names to that, there will be occasion not just for applause but for street parties.