Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The "Slate 60" sounds off

Ten years ago, Slate editor Michael Kinsley was inspired (by something Ted Turner said in an interview) to create the "Slate 60": the philanthropy version of the Forbes 400 annual list of America's richest people. Arguably Kinsley was a bit ahead of his time in 1996, which was before Bill Gates and Warren Buffett and Gordon Moore started famously taking turns doing modern-day Andrew Carnegie impersonations. (For that matter so was Turner, who has a right to feel like he was doing billionaire philanthropy before it was cool.)

Anyway it was a good idea and the ten years worth of lists make for interesting reading; one can see things like the sources of vast new personal fortunes, what subjects and institutions have the attention of the super-rich, and of course the unprecedented new scale of individual philanthropy. (Despite personal wealth in the U.S. being vastly less concentrated today than in Carnegie's time Bill Gates has already given away in real dollars several times as much as either Carnegie or John D. Rockefeller did; and yet all the giving for a year by the entire Slate 60 is a small fraction of total American individual giving which is closing in on $300 billion per year.)

This past November, Slate gathered members of the Slate 60 from its first ten years for a public conversation. I like the NonProfit Times writeup which is both thorough and just a bit cheeky ("With their limos waiting outside, donors gathered at the conference to discuss..." Those would be hybrid limos staffed by salaried drivers receiving family health insurance, I trust?). For example their reporter quoted Bill Gates Sr. scoffing at the dot-commers' notion that philanthropy only just this second became entrepeneurial (he has a point in a generalized sense of that word, not so much if the narrow fiduciary sense of it is meant).

The Chronicle of Philanthropy writeup is drier, though probably does a better job of getting across the key messages of a couple of people like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Slate meanwhile posted video and audio from the conference itself. (The conference also included prominent philanthropists who haven't personally made the Slate 60, such as Bono.)

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