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The New 1%

Suggested Song: Giving it all Away, The Frames Suggested Drink: Cherry Coke (rumored to be Warren Buffet’s favorite tipple)

A 1% club sounds elite. The egoist within would rather be part of an exclusive 1% than the common 99% in most cases, but in fact this term has a acquired a pejorative distinction of late, tainting those in its ranks with an Antoinettian hue. It’s unfair in the main but not surprising when certain amongst the club, typically the 1% of the 1% can’t resist their own let them eat cake tantrums. To wit, Tom Perkins, Silicon Valley titan and former tech tycoon, made a well-documented stink earlier this year when his opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal likened the assault on America’s wealthy to Kristallnacht. He has since admitted regrets for the insensitive comparison, but burnished his credentials again as a delegate for the 1%’s oblivious wing when fielding questions at a Q&A in San Francisco, starting out that his bejewelled watch could buy “a six-pack of Rolexes” (just to get his pedestal firmly planted). He followed up with criticisms of President Johnson’s War on Poverty and a claim that “if American gun laws had been in place in Germany, Hitler never would have risen to power.” Amen to life in an echo chamber.


Courtesy of cdlitestudio

That the aspiring term “the 1%” has been hijacked and vilified seems unfair. Unfortunately, those who suffer most from its negative subtext are often too reverent to their oblivious brethren doing it harm. It falls to the rest of us then to reclaim the term, to again make it cool to be elite. So here is your chance to join the club regardless of income or level of affluence: pledge to leave this holy earth with no more than 1% of your accumulated wealth still intact, the rest committed to causes benefiting the masses large or small, local or global, whatever your social passion de jour. What, you ask, are you crazy?! Consider these 4 benefits:

  1. You join the rarified ranks of the uber-wealthy and uber-cool like Warren Buffet, who has thrown down a challenge royale with a pledge to donate 99% of his considerable fortune ($65B at last count) to worthy causes by the time his pine box is fitted out. In fact, he and his buddy Bill Gates have started a modest 50% club for their zillionaire comrades who will promise at least half of their wealth in the same manner. An impressive mix of entertainers, entrepreneurs, athletes and others is joining the growing list, viewable here. That I see no Kardashian or Walton progenies on the roles makes me ponder the correlation between those who work hardest to earn their booty and those most interested in putting it to good work for others.

  2. You liberate yourself (and your inheritors) from the burdensome chains of wealth maintenance. Keeping one’s guarded treasure in play and material accumulations inventoried requires a massive time investment and series of distractions. More meaningful and gratifying pursuits – your Intérprize plan included (click here for more) – get mired in the noise. Elements that enable personal growth such as continued education remain a priority, of course. It could be your son, daughter, or niece who solve the conundrum of an endless clean energy supply or write the next Sound of Music score after all. But don’t wait for the ghosts of Christmas past to look beyond your guarded ledgers. Buffet’s take on inheritance: “I want to give my kids just enough so that they would feel that they could do anything, but not so much that they would feel like doing nothing.”

  3. You will be at the vanguard of an emerging movement: the measure of personal worth based on the size and proportion of one’s givings, not holdings. This skew in definition still motivates us all to flourish and create stores of capital, be they financial, intellectual, artistic or other. The disbursement of that capital becomes the benchmark of our value to a globe sorely in need of great vision and investment. We are still driven to achieve great things, can still find a channel for our vanity. No longer are we celebrated for constructing the largest home or fastest yacht, but instead for the number of shelters we sponsor or investments made into renewables technologies, to cite just 2 opportunities. Dinner party conversation becomes suddenly more captivating with everyone comparing their benevolence activities like tattoos amongst sailors. And it makes us feel a bit more deserving of that next bottle of wine, …Garçon!

  4. You bring even more happiness into your giddy life. It is well documented that the bliss bump from increased affluence is limited and temporary, but that the act of giving has a direct correlation with and lasting impact on our sense of well being. (For interesting reading on this topic see Sonja Lyubomirsky’s latest book, The Myths of Happiness).

How you decide to build a legacy program with your 99% is of course a personal decision based on values, passions and available resources. Bill and Melinda Gates focus on resolving the grand challenges of “extreme poverty and poor health in developing countries, and the failures of America’s education system” through their foundation. I’ve chosen the nonprofit TechnoServe for all the proceeds of my first book, impressed by its mission (business solutions to poverty), high rating by Charity Navigator, and personal connection (through student volunteers from INSEAD). And again, the capital we invest need not be financial to be impactful. Habitat for Humanity and Ronald McDonald House are just 2 of the thousands of organisations that do inspiring work and provide opportunities for engagement that extend beyond donations. Friends and family in my personal sphere volunteer time and elbow grease – their most precious forms of capital – for both.

Ready to join the club, to re-elevate the 1% distinction from its stigmatic standing? Share your stories here for we are all looking for testimonials and inspiration. I’ll be happy to post them.

On a completely different topic, for those of you seeking an example of passion and purpose in one’s life watch Jiro Dreams of Sushi, a 2009 documentary about Jiro Ono, considered by many (including Joel Robuchon, Anthony Bourdain, and the Michelin star committee) as the greatest sushi chef on the planet. His unassuming restaurant – the 10 seat Sukiyabashi Jiro located in Tokyo’s Ginza subway station – books out months in advance and is a study in the pursuit of simple perfection. At 88 years of age the chef provides a fascinating portrait of uncompromising commitment to his craft, humility, an endless search for excellence, and deep passion. Looking and carrying himself as a man 20 years his junior, Chef Jiro and his story reinforce Victor Frankl’s assertion that purpose is what keeps us alive, engaged and full of zest. For the trailer on Jiro Dreams of Sushi click here.

Bill Magill Aix-en-Provence

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