By Ralph Nader
The super successful mega-investor, Warren Buffett, CEO of the giant conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway, was heard to say: There are only 535 members of Congress, why can’t 300 million Americans control them? That’s a pretty fundamental question since our senators and representatives are given their sovereign power by the people. Remember the preamble to our Constitution?
Buffett is a generous philanthropist. Among his contributions, he has given the Gates Foundation (public health projects) about $3 billion each year for over a decade. That’s over $30 billion dollars! Just one $3 billion contribution, devoted to establishing systemic-focused Congress Watchdog locals in every congressional district, would fund such groups for more than thirty years. Their objective would be to organize up to one-half of one percent of adults to volunteer in each congressional district to make sure our elected officials do the general public’s bidding under honest election procedures. The American people and their children have far more commonly desired necessities and wants than the hyped divide-and-rule tactics imposed by the present ruling powers imply. (See, Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State by Ralph Nader, April 2014).
I can hear some readers saying, “Well, if Mr. Buffett is such a public-spirited person, why don’t you ask him to do this? You’ve been writing about these groups for many years.” (See my recent columns: Think Big to Overcome Losing Big to Corporatism, January 7, 2022; Facilitating Civic and Political Energies for the Common Good, February 2, 2022; Going for Tax Reform Big Time, March 11, 2022; and Going for Big Watch on Big Budgets, March 31, 2022).
Answer: I did once, broadly, in a written letter. No connection was made. In 2011, I wrote a fictional book, “Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!” about a Warren Buffett recoiling from the immediate neglectful aftermath of the 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans. In the book, he launched, with 16 other enlightened individuals, a just, step-by-step democratic overhauling of American politics top-down and then bottom-up.
This realistic work of fiction caught his attention. He invited me to showcase the book at his massive annual shareholder’s meeting in Omaha, Nebraska. I went.
At an earlier breakfast, I mused about the story becoming a Hollywood movie. He amusingly asked who would play his character. I mentioned actors like Warren Beatty or Alan Alda.
In any event, nothing came of these interactions. My guess is that having to closely supervise over 70 managers of the sizable corporate subsidiaries of Berkshire requires an intensity of focus and time that is incompatible with the additional project of changing Congress to get good things done – popular as that would be in today’s America.
Some knowing readers might ask why Buffett doesn’t ask his network of some 236 multi-billionaires, who have signed on to his Giving Pledge, to donate half of their wealth to “good works.”
Answer: A condition for the Giving Pledge is that these philanthropists would not urge or ask each other to support their favored causes.
The obvious rejoinder to that impediment might be, “Surely this reflective man, who gets his calls returned, can create the necessary institutional network and public investments to make these long-overdue changes” – again top-down then bottom-up. Probably, yes. But the problem is, neither he nor his collaborators want to be the recipients of daily vitriol and smears so easily conveyed to the world through the Internet. They want to be left to concentrate on their own business or other pursuits in retirement.
So, what it comes down to is the perceived sense of great urgency, coupled with a belief that a group, such as described, is unique to being able to make a significant, lasting difference for the present and for posterity. That is what a civic sense of legacy, demonstrated already by the Pledgors, is – but multiplied many times over by institutional and structural reforms, backed by a critical mass of an alert citizenry, and nurtured by regular civic education for all ages.
If any readers are in a position to have a few of these otherwise predisposed mega-donors come to a discussion about this opportunity, the generic questions to pose to them are: What if? How to? And why not? Taken together, my four books “Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us”! Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State, Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think, and the Fable The Day the Rats Vetoed Congress provide detailed pathways to deep-rooted transformations of our country backed by about four-fifths of the American people.
There are, predictably, many readers who will scoff and stereotype all very rich people with a totally dismissive brush. There are, however, enough examples in American history that expose this wave-of-the-hand as an excessive generalization. Some are not like the rest. Even some of the rest should be given the opportunity to make amends.