three viewsWe hear and use the word “billions” pretty often. Since the word gets thrown around so much we tend to forget what a billion means. A billion is a thousand millions, of something. And usually it’s dollars we’re talking about.

Business people who have billions of dollars probably didn’t set out to get billions. With hard work, by luck of where and to whom they were born, and some good decisions – a billion dollars can accumulate.

Of course, a billion dollars is far beyond whatever is “enough” for a person or family. And how much is enough varies from person to person, but billions of dollars is far beyond enough so why do people keep it up?

I think what happens is that many billionaires enjoy playing the game they’re involved in and when they do it well the dough just piles up. They enjoy the buzz and power of playing the game that they continue to play. There’re some hoarders, but for most billionaires the money just keeps accumulating.

Some folks at the top of the food chain decided a while back to keep aside what’s enough for themselves and their family and to try to help the world with the rest. Most famously Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have done this. And they’ve gotten non-binding pledges from many of their mega rich pals to do the same.

What’s so interesting about the philanthrophy Gates and Buffett are doing is this: they’re trying to relieve pain in the world, rather than trying to spread joy.

They’re interested in big ideas with big impacts, like providing inexpensive vaccines poor people aren’t getting but will have major impacts if they do receive, or funding a search for a new condom design that makes condoms more likely to get used.

They aren’t underwriting the arts. Most of those have supporters. But stopping misery needs underwriting, and it’ll make the world a better place by allowing less advantaged people to pursue a dream. And maybe to be able to support the arts.