Chinese Investor Bids $2.1 Million For Lunch With Warren Buffett

June 30, 2008

This year, Forbes named Warren Buffett the richest human being in the world. At 77 years of age, this self-made Nebraskan’s published net worth is US$62 b-b-billion. (Remember, there are 1,000 millions in one billion.)

So, how much would you give to power lunch with Buffett?

Zhao Danyang, a Chinese investment fund manager for Hong Kong’s Pureheart China Growth Investment Fund, won this experience at an eBay auction on Friday. His bid: US$2,110,100. The LA Times called it the “most expensive charity auction ever held on eBay.”

He and seven of his friends will dine with Buffett at the Smith & Wollensky steakhouse in New York City on a mutually agreed-upon date.

It seems that Buffett’s value is the only thing going up nowadays. Last year’s power lunch auction brought in US$650,100 — less than a third of this year’s winning bid. The year before, it was US$351,100.

All proceeds will go to the Glide Foundation, which provides social services to the poor and homeless in San Francisco. With an operating budget of US$12 million, the foundation must be thrilled. Nothing like a nice philanthropic cycle of wealth redistribution every now and again.

Follow the money.

Giving It Away

April 13, 2008

Two recent articles on charitable giving in the U.S.: Saturday’s e-NYTimes published “Charities Seek Donors to Replace Wall Street”, which made me go back to a Slate article a couple months ago, “The Facebook Philanthropos”. The NYT article iterates philanthropy’s golden rule: 90% of money raised comes from 10% of (wealthiest) donors. The Slate article notes upticks in viral philanthropy or individual giving. While still accounting for only 1-5% of total contributions, viral philanthropy represents greater involvement from a wider range of individuals. Just looking at Obama’s campaign alone, we know that viral anything (at least in America) can overturn many a golden rule.

Two elephants (at least) in the room: first, the growing power of corporations and private wealth in supporting/defining what we see, hear, think, create in public space–which both articles address indirectly. And second, the shrinking role of government or public wealth (which come from taxes) in supporting/defining a (multi)cultural commons–which both articles do not address.

These are, of course, complicated and related issues. To get straight to my point, I’m generally not in favor of higher taxes. But we are swimming in dangerous waters when we as a nation are increasingly willing to put our common wealth (culture, science, education, sports, etc.) up for sale to private bidders. We are not just consumers and markets. We are citizens and constituencies. I for one do not want to look at a future sculpted by Facebook/Microsoft, Google, Sony, Visa, BMW, Boeing, Altria, Target, etc.