One of the gratifying and beautiful benefits of our work is the feedback we receive from you, our readers. As fascinating as they are diverse your comments, critique, questions, arguments and counterarguments reflect the rich multi-dimensional tapestry of our human race.
Powerful insights emerge from the opinions of large, diverse groups of people. “The wisdom of crowds” is how it has been coined today in a book by the same name (authored by New Yorker columnist James Surowiecki), exploring the idea that large groups of people are smarter than an elite few, no matter how brilliant; they are better at solving problems, fostering innovation, coming to wise decisions, even predicting the future.
The aggregative synergy of independent, decentralized opinions has the ability to reveal deeper truths about many issues. Even at its least optimal, the opinions of the masses on the ground definitely expose the state of the human condition, better than any analyst could ever predict from a pedestal (or ivory tower). Analysts, therapists and even marketers and advertisers – and for that matter, educators, clergies and leaders – would do well listening closely to the voice of the people.
Students of human nature are actually students of G-d. There are ways to know the Divine through revelation and holy books. But there is a profound and intimate Divine wisdom that comes from studying our own “flesh” (“from my flesh I behold G-d”) and the natural universe (“how great” and “how many” are Your works).
In this spirit, we are launching a new feature: The Meaningful Question of the Week. Its objective: To pose a timely question – addressing a relevant issue – in order to elicit your responses and comments and those of anyone you pass this question on to. The questions will be culled either from your correspondence with us or from current news and other sources.
Our goal is to create a platform of dialogue for the widest possible audience, to address the most important challenges facing us today.
We therefore invite both your responses as well as suggested questions for future postings. We also encourage you to welcome your friends, associates and anyone you see fit into this ever-widening loop. The more people responding – the greater the synergy and wisdom of the crowds.
As a follow-up to the many responses we received to last week’s article on Givers and Takers, addressing Warren Buffett’s unprecedented charitable commitment, the question for this week is this:
“What does wealth do to families?”
Here are some opinions out there.
The great philanthropist Andrew Carnegie felt that wealth should not be passed on to families. In his 1889 essay “Wealth” (later named “The Gospel of Wealth”) Carnegie wrote:
“The most injudicious” method of disposing of wealth is leaving it to the families of the descendents. “In monarchical countries, the estates and the greatest portion of the wealth are left to the first son, that the vanity of the parent may be gratified by the thought that his name and title are to descend unimpaired to succeeding generations. The condition of this class in Europe today teaches the failure of such hopes or ambitions. The successors have become impoverished through their follies, or from the fall in the value of land. Even in Great Britain the strict law of entail has been found inadequate to maintain an hereditary class. Its soil is rapidly passing into the hands of the stranger. Under republican institutions the division of property among the children is much fairer; but the question which forces itself upon thoughtful men in all lands is, Why should men leave great fortunes to their children. If this is done from affection, is it not misguided affection. Observation teaches that, generally speaking, it is not well for the children that they should be so burdened. Neither is it well for the State. Beyond providing for the wife and daughters moderate sources of income, and very moderate allowances indeed, if any, for the sons, men may well hesitate; for it is no longer questionable that great sums bequeathed often work more for the injury than for the good of the recipients. Wise men will soon conclude that, for the best interests of the members of their families, and of the State, such bequests are an improper use of their means.
“It is not suggested that men who have failed to educate their sons to earn a livelihood shall cast them adrift in poverty. If any man has seen fit to rear his sons with a view to their living idle lives, or, what is highly commendable, has instilled in them the sentiment that they are in a position to labor for public ends without reference to pecuniary considerations, then, of course, the duty of the parent is to see that such are provided for in moderation. There are instances of millionaires’ sons unspoiled by wealth, who, being rich, still perform great services to the community. Such are the very salt of the earth, as valuable as, unfortunately, they are rare. It is not the exception however, but the rule, that men must regard; and, looking at the usual result of enormous sums conferred upon legatees, the thoughtful man must shortly say, “I would as soon leave to my son a curse as the almighty dollar,” and admit to himself that it is not the welfare of the children, but family pride, which inspires these legacies.”
In our own time, Warren Buffett, who just declared the largest charitable pledge ever made, argues that estate taxes should be increased, not eliminated. Mr. Buffett says the estate tax helps build a vibrant economy of innovators and strivers — a true meritocracy — and that repealing it would risk a stunted economy controlled by aristocratic inheritors. Repealing the estate tax, he has said, would be the economic equivalent of “choosing the 2020 Olympic team by picking the eldest sons of the gold-medal winners in the 2000 Olympics.”
Bill Gates, a founder of Microsoft and close friend of Mr. Buffett, has not taken a public position on the estate tax, but his father leads the movement to keep it. Few ultrarich families agree, and 18 have spent $500 million since 1994 lobbying for estate tax repeal, according to disclosure records examined by Public Citizen and United for a Fair Economy, which want to keep the tax.
Almost alone among rich Americans, Mr. Buffett and Mr. Gates position echoes Carnegies’ philosophy in the abovementioned essay.
What is the Torah opinion?
The Torah specifically states that children inherit the wealth of parents. What would the Torah answer to Carnegie’s arguments, and the facts on the ground, that inherited wealth in most cases does not serve the children well? Clearly, the Torah is speaking about healthy situations in which the bearers of wealth understand that their blessing carries responsibility; they know that it is meant to be shared and they fulfill their charitable obligations of distributing 10% or 20% of their wealth to tzedakah.
But the question is what would the Torah say about wealth that is being hoarded, squandered and/or corrupting and tearing apart families? What about children who do not understand the great responsibility that comes with wealth, and instead become spoiled by their gift?
What do you think?