The Giving Pledge and the American Hero

On August 3, 2010, the Wall Street Journal ran an article titled, “U.S. Super Rich to Share Wealth.” The piece was about the Giving Pledge—a promise made by 40 of America’s richest individuals and families to give away half of their wealth during their lifetime. The pledge, which stemmed from conversations Bill Gates and Warren Buffett had with U.S. billionaires over the previous year, had been announced a day earlier.

The Pledge is not about giving per se; that would not be a story of much interest. It is not about rich people either. America has always had rich people and a great deal has been written about them. The current conversation is about the hero. The conversation we are having as a nation today is about the American hero—about trying to understand who these people are, what motivates them, how they do what they do, and, above all, how their efforts make us all better people and America a better country. The real question is not so much who the hero is but whether the hero is dead or alive in America. The Giving Pledge has put this debate front and center in the American consciousness.

What is unique about the American hero is that he or she is not either an entrepreneur or a philanthropist but both of these—and much more. Many Americans are entrepreneurs who invent something, make money, and then move on without completing the Circle. We also have philanthropists who have never made a dime but came into their money through inheritance or luck. These are not the people this conversation is about. It is about our heroes who, through extraordinary sacrifice, have changed America for the better and in the process touched the lives of millions of individuals—in America and beyond. Our hero is a person who took advantage of opportunities that others had made available and has in turn used that new wealth to create opportunity for others. In other words, our hero is a person who has completed the Circle.

Excerpt from the forthcoming book by Professor Zoltan Acs: The Philanthropist Hero: Completing the Circle of Prosperity, Princeton University Press