September 20, 1997
With his familiar sense of theatrics, the media magnate Ted Turner just started the silly season of our generosity fable. He announced yesterday that he would give away a billion dollars worth of his Time Warner stock, or about one third of his net worth, over a ten year period. Jane Fonda cried with joy when she heard the terrific news. The Secretary of State, Madeleine K. Albright, deemed the act "extraordinarily generous". Barbara Walters is already hard at work on a special edition of ABC's 20/20. We hear that the Pope is trying to reach him by phone.
The most uplifting news for our suburbs comes from Mr. Turner's motivation. He was inspired by Diana, Mother Teresa, and even the good works of a commoner, Jacques Cousteau. God, the people's princess and the environment, the political correctness of our summer. What a balancing act, very polished, very neat. Indeed, an admirable gesture and enlightenment. Let us pray.
Mr. Turner has been learning how to give. "It's something you have to keep working on," he said, "because people like money the way they do their homes and their dogs." How many homes and dogs he owns is not told by Mr. Turner. What's sure is that if you do not have a home and a dog, you are out of luck. Wonder whether Bill Gates has a dog... He sure has a home, or a post-modern palace--or whatever, would have mumbled good ol' Bob Dole. And Billy is hard at work learning the trade of generosity. He may want to talk to Professor Turner.
Now, to be precise, one should know that generosity has its limits. For Mr. Turner the limit is placed at the current value of the stock. So, if the stock goes up over the next ten years his total contribution will be a billion dollars and no more--which will turn out to be less than that amount due to such ridiculous details as inflation and the like. If the stock goes down, his donation will fall accordingly. Whichever is less turns out to be the extent of his generosity. Well, come on, just imagine what would happen if the stock were to triple over the next ten years. That would translate in a lot more dole [not Bobby this time] than his accounted generosity. Worse even, imagine that the stock loses half of its value over the same period; he would have to part with many more shares. And since he'll be in his eighties by that time, you must understand that he will have some increased financial wants to pay for his plastic surgeries and his need for a few new organs (heart, liver, etc.). On the other hand, he could decide to give the one billion in stock at once, thus avoiding the potential pitfalls. But that would be double-jeopardy. First, he would lose a big chunk of his present power at Time Warner and, second, he would lose the tax-benefits of a yearly 100 million dollars or so tax-deductible gift. No one has ever asserted that a generous person had to throw the baby out with the bath water.
Finally, for those who cannot appreciate the extent of such a generosity, those skeptics who, out of bitterness or envy, refuse to understand this "extraordinarily generous act" which Mr. Turner freely made, one should be reminded that:
1) The wealthiest countries in the world which account for 15 percent of the world's population consume nearly 75 percent of the world's output.
2) The wealthiest 1 percent of Americans hold almost 40 percent of the country's wealth and the top 10 percent of the population hold about 70 percent.
Hold on, the rhetoric seems kind of upside-down, does it not?