Bill and Melinda Gates released their 10th Annual Letter Tuesday morning. In it, the billionaire philanthropists answer the 10 toughest questions they get asked, including: Is it fair that you have so much influence?
"No, it's not fair that we have so much wealth when billions of others have so little," says Melinda. "And it's not fair that our wealth opens doors that are closed to most people."
As a 2018 report from the global charity Oxfam highlights, the inequality gap is only increasing. In 2017, 82 percent of the total wealth created went to the top 1 percent. The bottom 50 percent of individuals saw no increase in their wealth at all.
Buffett agrees that such extreme wealth inequality needs a fix. In fact, "the real problem" with the U.S. economy is people like him, says the billionaire. "The prosperity has been unbelievable for the extremely rich people" but money is increasingly concentrated in the hands of the few.
"If you go to 1982, when Forbes put on their first 400 list, those people had [a total of] $93 billion. They now have $2.4 trillion, [a multiple of] 25 for one. This has been a prosperity that's been disproportionately rewarding to the people on top."
While she acknowledged that the wealth gap is "not fair," Melinda adds that she and Bill "use whatever influence we have, to help as many people as possible and to advance equity around the world."
In 2017, the power couple donated around $4.6 billion to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the world's largest private charity foundation, which focuses on improving people's health, well-being and education.
They also, along with Warren Buffett, founded The Giving Pledge, a commitment by high-net-worth individuals and families to give away more than half of their wealth to causes including poverty alleviation, disaster relief, global health, education and women and girls' empowerment.
Bill also weighs in on the topic of inequality in the Annual Letter while bringing up another issue at the heart of the original question: "If we think it's unfair that we have so much wealth, why don't we give it all to the government? The answer is that we think there's always going to be a unique role for foundations.
"They're able to take a global view to find the greatest needs, take a long-term approach to solving problems, and manage high-risk projects that governments can't take on and corporations won't. If a government tries an idea that fails, someone wasn't doing their job. Whereas if we don't try some ideas that fail, we're not doing our jobs."
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This article has been updated to more precisely reflect the amount given to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.