Billionaires Giving Back

A Special 'This Week' with Warren Buffett, Bill and Melinda Gates and Ted Turner

November 28, 2010, 7:51 AM

WASHINGTON, Nov. 28, 2010— -- In a special Thanksgiving edition of "This Week," some of the world's richest people sat down with Christiane Amanpour to talk about their extraordinary Giving Pledge -- a commitment to give the majority of their wealth away through philanthropy. Warren Buffett, Bill and Melinda Gates, Ted Turner and others delved into the meaning of philanthropy, their moral obligation to give back and the future of the country in which each of them reached the heights of prosperity.

Having a lot of money doesn't mean it's easy to give it away intelligently, a handful of the world's richest people told Amanpour.

"Everybody who's rich has considered it," Ted Turner, the founder of CNN said. "It's just a question of whether they do it or not because it's so much easier not to do it."

For Buffett, the choice to give was easy, the execution was difficult. "The question was how to do it. And it's much easier to make it than it is to give it away intelligently," said Buffett, the Chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway.

Spearheaded by Gates and Buffett, the Giving Pledge "is an effort to invite the wealthiest individuals and families in America to commit to giving the majority of their wealth to philanthropic causes," according to its founding statement.

Bill Gates explained that philanthropy was contagious. More than 40 people have already signed on to the Giving Pledge, and others are expected to join in the coming months.

"There's a certain momentum in terms of the more you hear about other people doing giving, it will encourage you to do more," Bill Gates said. "And certainly all of us who got involved have been inspired by each other's stories, and that rededicates us to getting this money to have the most positive impact."

Buffett, who will be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, early next year, said that giving was an obligation but also just made sense.

"I've got everything I possibly need," Buffett said. "I've got a whole bunch of what I call claim checks on society. Little stock certificates. They sit in a box and have been there for 40 years. They can't do anything for me," he said, but "they can do a lot for other people if intelligently used."

In 2006, Buffett pledged 10 million shares of Berkshire Hathaway stock to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation -- then worth about $31 billion dollars. He said part of the reason was that "they have this identical goal that every human life is the equivalent of every other human life."

Amanpour asked Bill and Melinda Gates why they chose to focus their philanthropic efforts on health and education.

"We really started with the premise that all lives have equal value no matter where they live on the globe. So, that's Bangladesh, or that's Boston, or that's in Britain somewhere," Melinda Gates said.

"We looked around," Bill added, "and saw that the greatest miracle that had happened for everybody on Earth is that as health had improved, it not only saved lives, it reduced sickness, let kids be able to learn."

Melinda emphasized the importance of education, not just abroad, but also in the United States. "In the U.S. we feel the greatest inequity is education, that not every child in this country is getting a phenomenal education," she said. "And they ought to -- that's the civil rights issue in our country"

Ted Turner has focused on education of another kind: about the peril posed by nuclear weapons to humanity. Both Turner and Buffett support the Nuclear Threat Intuitive, which works to reduce the threats posed by weapons of mass destruction.

The number of countries with nuclear weapons has tripled since 1960, but Ted Turner wants to reverse that trend -- and quickly.

"We got to all get rid of them," he said. "U.S., Russia, China. And they all understand that. And they all voted for it last year at the Security Council. So all I'm trying to do is remind them that they're already voted for it, let's go ahead and do it," Turner said. "And we've already voted for the START Treaty and it carried. Now all we got to do is ratify it with a supermajority of the Senate ... get that ratified and get on the road towards nuclear disarmament and world peace because we have too many other problems that we need to deal with," Turner said. "Let's get rid of polio and measles and malaria, instead of bombing each other."