Bill Gates to Australia’s richest: Pay up

Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT), one of the world’s most important companies, says the rich should not only pay more tax but give back to society just as he does.

Earlier in the week, one of the world’s richest men (currently said to be worth US$67 billion) was busy lobbying the Australian government to commit to foreign aid.

Gates said he has paid more than US$6 billion in taxes in his lifetime and is glad to have done it. He went on to say that many super wealthy people aren’t doing enough to give back to society and noted that “there’s a phenomenal amount of charity from people with lower incomes, [giving] even a higher percentage of their wealth than rich people, so they’re forgoing vacations or forgoing something nice. They’re the ones that are truly charitable.”

Earlier this month, the ATO revealed that 70 Australians with incomes of more than $1 million each in 2010-2011 paid no income tax.

In the past couple weeks we have come to grips with the implications of a slowing resource sector, a weakening dollar and some of Australia’s richest losing billions of dollars in the process. According to the BRW Rich 200, owned by Fairfax Media (ASX: FXJ), Australia’s wealthiest miners took a beating over the past 12 months.

The biggest loser was Gina Rinehart, who lost $7 billion, which is not surprising considering her play in the mining industry. However, to put that in some sort of context, that’s approximately the same amount of money that Australians donated in the entire 2004 calendar year.

In April this year, Dick Smith, accused News Corp’s (ASX: NWS) Rupert Murdoch of not giving enough back to charity. He said “In the 1950s when I was a kid every wealthy person was a philanthropist” but went on to say “that’s all changed, it’s the time of greed and selfishness now”. He said he had written to Murdoch in the past to express his views but his final reply read “after your insulting remarks about our newspaper front pages I see no further need of reply”.

Foolish takeaway

A neo-liberal society such as Australia is not only conducive to becoming super rich but it is also vulnerable to it. Forbes magazine recently rated Gina Rinehart as more powerful than PM Julia Gillard. Although Rinehart has apparently started a number of charities, she, like many super rich, is hesitant to disclose what she donates. The list rated women on “money, media presence and impact”. Melinda Gates rated as number 3 in the world, no doubt based on her charitable donations and contribution to society, health and children around the globe.

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Motley Fool contributor Owen Raszkiewicz has no financial interest in any of the mentioned companies.

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