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Thailand's selfish super-rich

Apr 16. 2014
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By The Nation

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Our wealthiest families continue to ignore the philanthropic example set by Western counterparts like Bill Gates

Recent reports of wealthy individuals in the West choosing to bequeath most of their money to charity rather than to their children indicate a growing trend.

John Roberts, a British entrepreneur worth £500 million (Bt27 billion), has gone even further, telling the media he plans to leave his entire fortune to charity and that his children would be “getting nothing”.

Roberts says he has passed on to his children the words he heard as a child from his father: “I’ll give you the best start in life I can afford and what you do with it is up to you.” He says he wants his five kids to be “happy and normal” in their chosen careers.

Meanwhile Bill Gates, the world’s richest man, with a personal fortune of $76 billion (Bt2.43 trillion), has vowed not to leave his Microsoft fortune to his three children. Gates says that he prefers to give his children a good education so they can rely on their own abilities rather than their parents’ fortune.

Promising large portions of your wealth to charity might not yet be the norm, but it is a rising trend in developed countries. Some 122 billionaires have signed up for Giving Pledge, a campaign started by Gates and business magnate Warren Buffett to encourage the world’s richest people to donate more than half of their fortunes to charitable causes, either during their lifetime or as a legacy. Gates and Buffett have been joined by familiar names like Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg, filmmaker George Lucas, CNN founder Ted Turner, Virgin Group’s Richard Branson, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk. They’ve all “made the pledge”.

Sadly this idea has yet to catch on among Thailand’s super-rich families, despite many being even wealthier than some of those committed to Giving Pledge. Certainly some wealthy Thais donate money to charity, but the practice is far from universal and motivations are often questionable. The desire for publicity often outweighs generosity, for example.

The idea of “giving back to society” needs to be taken up and promoted among wealthy Thais. They should be aware of how their fortune derived from the country and its people. Of course those who operate honestly gain their wealth through risk, hard work and diligence, but their profits are also built on the labour and patronage of their less-well-off compatriots.

There is an inherent selfishness in the concept that wealth should be kept within families, passed on from one generation to another. Greed is bound to be amplified when people feel they need to amass wealth not just for themselves but also for their children and grandchildren.

Such selfish disregard for the wider society finds its most extreme expression in the rampant corruption that has made many of our bureaucrats, businesspeople and politicians wealthy at the expense of taxpayers. Perhaps if more wealthy Thais were to set an example by teaching their offspring that hard work is the route to wealth, we could begin tackling the root causes of major societal problems like corruption.

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