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What kind of a billionaire would you be?

US Republican nominee frontrunner Donald Trump appears at the moment to be the billionaire who has both the magic and the pong touch. He appeals to a section of disaffected voters across America, yet causes dismay and bemusement elsewhere. However, with his comments on whether women should be punished for abortion or not he has, bluntly put, handed Democratic front runner Senator Hilary Clinton a big club to beat him with.

As billionaires go Trump is one who is prepared to say what he thinks and like him or not he seems to revel in publicity and controversy. Will he become President? You can never know until the election, but I’ll wager it’s unlikely. The other billionaires who involve themselves overtly in US political affairs, they too are prepared to say what they think, are the Republican supporting industrialists David and Charles Koch. They are often cited as the betes noires of the bien pensant liberals in the US and seem to be mentioned in many wilder theories of who controls the US or their government. Once again like them or hate them, at least you know where they stand politically and their businesses certainly operate within public scrutiny of US regulations.

The wider question is how healthy ethically and democratically is involvement of the world’s billionaires in the democratic process or indeed charity work in critical areas such as healthcare or education provision? What gets their attention and what is left to rely on inadequate state or institutional support?

Personally, Donald Trump if wishes to build golf courses in Aberdeenshire or shiny tower blocks in Manhattan that’s all well and fine. Like everyone else he has to seek approval of local authorities to proceed in such ventures. However, I’m not so sure about him occupying the most powerful political office in the West. Maybe he’ll get side-lined at the Republican’s conference with Marco Rubio or filibuster himself, Ted Cruz getting the Grand Old party’s full backing? The Koch’s aren’t supporting Trump either and there’s plenty on Google about whom they were and might be backing with Rubio and Cruz both being mentioned.

The activities of mega-billionaire Bill Gates with his wife Melinda in creating their health care and education foundation, to combat global pestilences like Malaria or cholera and to tackle poverty, they are much to be admired. Legendary investor Warren Buffet and media mogul Michael Bloomberg also contribute a substantial portion of their wealth to philanthropic works. Bloomberg waived his salary whilst serving as the mayor of New York.

My observation about billionaires isn’t how many billions of dollars they have, it’s how many of billions of dollars they are able to give away, which marks the mega-rich from the mere super-rich, and if not, powerful helps distinguish those who are the most globally influential people.

The measure of great wealth being how you deploy such abundance to worthy causes where the philanthropic reward is in the outcome and not the praise.

Philanthropy is well established with the mega-rich since the days of c.19th steel magnate Andrew Carnegie or the establishment in 1936 of the London based global Wellcome Trust in 1936 for medical research (Guardian, 2015).

However, with the number of billionaires increasing globally with many more Chinese or Asians in the ranks of the super and mega-rich it remains of the utmost importance for democracy or healthcare and education programmes to remain accountable to electorates globally and that billionaires work with and for the betterment of society and the cause they sponsor.

The influence of wealthy patrons capturing susceptible governments with aid for humanitarian relief can create back-door access for their business interests to gain market access or win public contracts in that country or region. Organisations like the UN, EU, ASEAN or the WHO can provide supranational co-operation with billionaire controlled charities although a challenge is for themselves to stifle any internal cronyism and corruption too.

Most of world’s billionaires’ charity work is beneficial, such as the Gates Foundation or the smaller UK’s Weston Foundation. However, politically partisan support by the rich can cause anger as their views may appear discordant with many ordinary voters as the 2016 US Presidential elections highlight. However, as long as their views are expressed openly with secret political lobbying and access to elected officials minimised any wilder theories of billionaires controlling countries rather than companies can remain precisely that wild and unsubstantiated.

Like anyone else the super and mega rich have their own agenda and self-interests and their involvement in large public programmes or political service is long established. With open debate and declarations of their interests with continued public accountability to the electorate voters or populations at large should know who to blame if they don’t get the president or healthcare and education programmes they think they deserve. The more secretive and crony a country’s political system becomes the more the majority have to demand some change to rein in the richest, or the beneficiaries of such a regime.

How open and accountable would you be if you had all the money you needed and people were pestering you for answers about your beliefs and lifestyle?

It’s easy to say the rich should pay but what if you thought you were only trying your best?

LDC.

Reading and references:

Garfield Weston Foundation (2016); Website accessed Sat. 2nd April 2016:
http://www.garfieldweston.org/

Guardian News; (2015); “What is the Wellcome Trust?” by Emma Howard, Guardian News and Media Ltd, London UK. Website accessed Sat 2nd April:
http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/mar/16/what-is-the-wellcome-trust

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