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Sharing the wealth


Ted Turner's not the first big giver

September 19, 1997
Web posted at: 4:45 a.m. EST (0945 GMT)
From CNN Correspondent Laurie Dhue

(CNN) -- Some of the wealthiest people of all time are known as much for giving money away as for making it. Ted Turner's pledge to give $1 billion to United Nations causes follows in a long line of hefty donations by the money bags of the world.

Nineteenth Century industrialist Andrew Carnegie gave away an estimated $350 million over his lifetime. That is an amount equal to about $5 billion in today's dollars, and represents 70 percent of his net worth. He donated money mainly for building libraries, of which he built 2500.

The U.N. headquarters in New York owes its location to America's first billionaire, a big giver himself. It was built on land donated by John D. Rockefeller, the founder of Standard Oil. Rockefeller gave away more than $500 million, all before 1921. Rockefeller's largesse also translates into about $5 billion in today's dollars.

Today, philanthropy has become synonymous with George Soros, the world's biggest living giver. The 66-year-old Hungarian-born investor and president of Soros Fund Management has already parted with $1 billion. He gave away $350 million last year, including $50 million to a fund to help legal immigrants and $100 million to set up computer internet centers at universities in Russia.

In total, Soros has funded more than 50 foundations that deal with education, civil reform, health, child welfare and the arts.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates, recently named the world's richest man, is also in on the money-giving game. This year he pledged to donate $200 million to put computers in libraries that otherwise couldn't afford them. That large gift, however, is still just one percent of Gates' estimated net worth.

Last year, Gates gave away $135 million, according to a survey by Fortune magazine. Much of that money went to Harvard, the University of Washington Law School, cancer research, a children's hospital and the Seattle Symphony.

By why give away so much? In part, philanthropists have a genuine interest in doing good.

"I really want to help people who are hurt. And if I do that, I feel that my money is well-spent," explained Soros.

However, there is also an element of public relations and self-promotion. Now, Ted Turner offers perhaps another incentive: "philanthropic competition."

"I'm putting every rich person in the world on notice that they're gonna be hearing from me about giving more money away..." he said after announcing his own generous intentions.

And if Ted Turner is right, he will appeal to the competitive instincts of the world's billionaires -- and encourage them not simply to acquire money, but to share the wealth.


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