"Warren and Gates Go Back to School"

I just watched my recording (DVR) of this PBS special – it was really very interesting – College kids asking questions of the two wealthiest men in the world.

The DVD is available from PBS for $24.95, of you can just wait for a repeat.  It originally aired 17OCT06.  Look for it – it was worth the hour of my life I spent watching it.

In particular I found it very interesting when a student asked if they (Warren and/or Gates) supported a “flat tax”.  Buffet responded by basically stating things are too damn flat now – that the uber-rich aren’t required to pay enough.  Instead of a flat tax he and Gates both seemed to support an escalated tax rate for the uber-rich. 

This reminded me of a conversation I had with my dad once (shortly after he retired, and he was, for the first time in his life on a truly fixed income).  I was complaining that I was going to have to pay more in taxes that year than I made three years before.

My Dad simply said, “I wish I had that problem.”  He was right – the only reason I had to pay that much in taxes is because I made an unreal amount of money that year (due to some corporate buy-outs/mergers, etc). 

I paid a lot in taxes, but I also made a lot – although at the time I felt it was unfair to tax me at such a rate, I don’t believe it any longer – as Buffet explains in the show, him and Gates got very good “tickets” in life – they were born in America, where they could take advantage of their intellect.  They were born in a time that allowe3d them to make use of that intellect (i.e., it wouldn’t have served them very well to be the intellects they are if they were born 100 years ago – they wouldn’t have had the opportunities to use their intellects in a substantial way).

It was a very interesting program – I recommend you watch it if you see it listed on PBS.


  1. I think they were talking specifically about their ability to do things on a global scale (like the Gates Foundations work in Africa, etc).

  2. Another example: about hundred years ago you said? Andrew Carnegie (founder of one of the most powerful and influential corporations in United States history) has donated some 7 billion $$ (after correction for inflation) to world wide charities and good causes. How was that less influential than what Gates and Buffett are doing? Don’t get me wrong: I commend them for doing what they do, but they could have done the same 100 or even a 1000 years ago.

  3. I think they could have, and I don’t understand why they think they couldn’t have. After all, this global scale was also MUCH ‘smaller’ 100 years agi (In my lifetime I have seen the world population double in size!). Thousands of years people had enormous semi global affects .. Alexander the Great, Julius Ceasar, Djengis Kahn… you name them.

  4. You have to watch it in context.  Basically what they are saying is that had they been born 100 years ago they would not have been able to affect the world globally.  Now they can – and they are.  They were born in the right place at the right time for them to maximize what they can give back to humanity.  And they are doing it.

    I’m not suggesting (and I don’t think they were either) that they would have been failures in a different age.  But they certainly could not have been as successful, and affected the lives of so many on a global scale.


  5. "if they were born 100 years ago – they wouldn’t have had the opportunities to use their intellects in a substantial way"Rob! You’re not seriously believing that, do you? Smart people have used their intellect in substantial ways for thousands and thousands of years, and some have become VERY rich by doing so.