On Thursday afternoon, Georgetown welcomed Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, and Brian Moynihan, CEO of Bank of America, for a conversation in Gaston Hall. The talk was succinct and efficient, focusing on just two topics: Buffett’s philanthropy and the state of the economy.
This event was made possible by Bank of America and Global Social Enterprise Initiative at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business, the same duo that brought Bono to GU in 2012. “Last year we brought you a rock star,” Moynihan said, while introducing Buffett. “This year we brought you a real rock star.”
Buffet spent a considerable amount of time discussing his most recent philanthropic project called The Giving Pledge. This campaign, a collaboration with Bill Gates and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, was designed to invite the wealthy to pledge to donate half of their net worth to philanthropy.
To date, the effort has recruited 115 people. Profiles of those who have made the pledge are posted on the project’s website, discussing the motives and purposes of the donations. Buffett hopes that these profiles and other publicity will help recruit more pledges to his campaign. “I call these billionaires up and sometimes they tell me how they can’t do it,” Buffett said. “I tell them I’m going to write a book on how to live on 500 million dollars.”
“When I die all the money has to be spent within 10 years after the estate is closed,” Buffett said, wrapping up his comments on The Giving Pledge. “I don’t believe in trying to control things from the grave. I like to think I can think outside the box, but thinking outside that particular box…”
The conversation then shifted to the current state of the economy. Citing a favorite George W. Bush comment on the 2008 crisis, Buffett discussed how bad things really were, and how well business has recovered. Despite the recovery in the years since, Buffet still warned that there is still progress to be made. “The American populous as a whole has not come back,” he said. “Inequality is getting wider.”
He explained that no matter what, the human animal will always behave as it has in the past. There will be recessions and hardships, but prosperity is still attainable, he argued. “Don’t ever worry about America,” Buffett said. “You’re in the right place.”
This discussion of the economy was ultimately connected back to importance of philanthropy and social welfare in the world today. “The obligation of a society as prosperous as ours is to figure out how nobody gets left too far behind,” Buffett said.
Buffett hammered this point home in his answer to the penultimate question in the brief Q and A section, leaving the room with a clear, resounding message. “We’ve gone significantly in the right direction in terms of behaving better as a society, and I think we’ve gone terrifically in the right direction in terms of turning out lots of stuff,” Buffett said. “We have to address the question of ‘how do you treat the people that are left behind in a system that maximizes the output of goods and services?’ And that can only come from government.”
Photo: Katherine Landau/Georgetown Voice