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Are the wealthy obligated to be philanthropic?

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Steve Jobs, the Apple Co-founder, has long been criticized for his lack of philanthropic giving. His death last Wednesday left no opportunity unturned to celebrate his many gifts to the world of technology, but also brought attention to his lack of gifts to the public sector.

While his chief business competitor, Bill Gates, leads the world’s largest foundation (The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) and has been a tremendous supporter of the Giving Pledge, an organization he founded with Warren E. Buffet, which encourages the world’s wealthiest individuals to give away at least half of their fortunes to support community initiatives, Steve Jobs rarely made the headlines as it pertains to charitable giving. He refused to sign the Giving Pledge, nor has he ever made a public gift that appeared on The Chronicle’s Philanthropy 50, an annual list of the world’s largest charitable gifts. Yes, that’s right -- despite accumulating an estimated $8.3 billion fortune through his holdings in Apple and a 7.4 percent stake in Disney (through the sale of Pixar), there is no public record of Mr. Jobs ever having given money to charity.

Another billionaire, Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart Stores, did not start the Walton Family Foundation until he was 69, just five years before his death. In his autobiography, Mr. Walton expressed misgivings about formal charity programs. “We have never been inclined to give any undeserving stranger a free ride.” He was also reluctant for Wal-Mart itself to give money to charity. “We feel very strongly,” he wrote, “that Wal-Mart really is not, and should not be, in the charity business.”

With Atlanta being home to five billionaires according to the Forbes List of 400 Richest Individuals, not to mention most recent reports citing that 143,957 households in our 'Peach State' have a net worth of more than $1million, should we be ashamed that Atlanta is still the poorest city in the U.S. for children? Or that we are 45th in the nation as it pertains to education? Or that despite being home to 5,422 nonprofit organizations, Atlanta as a city and Georgia as a whole continuously remain at the bottom of nearly every quality of life and city comparison study (health, education, homelessness, poverty, joblessness, etc.). Should those who have more wealth feel more obligated to care for others? Or do more of our wealthy share the personal sentiments of Sam Walton? Perhaps we should all be equally responsible for our community’s welfare - I mean, whose job is it anyway? (pun intended).

Disclaimer: There have been conversations as to whether or not Mr. Jobs anonymously gave gifts to support charities of his choice, but this has never been confirmed. I personally feel that Steve Jobs was a technological genius and have no ill feelings toward him or his family, regardless of their position on charitable giving.

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