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9:32 PM Tue, Dec. 18th

Reader Letter: What are the rich doing?

I don't begrudge the 1 percent their 45 percent of the pie. Never have. I've always been spartan about my needs and never wanted more than I was willing to spend in time and effort. My extravagance is freedom - the freedom of my time.

To this end I sometimes play a fantasy game of what-if with big money and I've done some fancy what-iffing as a billionaire. Curiously, I've watched how some of the 1 percent spend theirs.

Charity seems like a popular and rewarding way and it must be catching because once shamed into it by Ted Turner, Bill and Melinda Gates have spent billions on various charitable and humanitarian causes around the world. Nor are they alone.

Billionaires are created every day. Twenty-seven year old Zuckerman just IPO'd Facebook and became a $22.7 billionaire overnight. There are more billionaires under 50 than old ones, and many of them are spending enormous amounts of their wealth on philanthropic adventures. Funding for poverty, health and education are raising up children around the globe. New technology, business, jobs, consumers and new wealth are being created every day.

Gates, Buffett and other new billionaires are putting their wealth back into the economy in charitable and productive ways by pledging half their lifetime fortunes to such causes. The plan is to raise up as many new middle-class members as possible. That's the fastest way of growing more wealth. Every individual so enabled adds to the wealth of the world in more than just economic ways and means.

Conservative estimates add some three billion new people to the one billion person middle class already here. By the end of this decade this new labor could easily add hundreds of trillions of dollars to the wealth of the world. The money squabbles we're having now will seem pathetically insignificant. The phoenix is beginning to tremble in the ashes of 2008, so don't begrudge the recession. They are good for economies now and then. Recessions are the revolutions that overthrow the financial tyrants and thieves that have arisen.

Edward Tomchin

Golden Valley