Today, a brief reminder that great, world-changing wealth still exists in the hands of comparatively few folk - enough that the realignment of even a modest fraction of the total will cause great changes across the entire space of non-profit and grant-using research organizations.
"Brace yourself," Buffett warned with a grin. He then described a momentous change in his thinking. Within months, he said, he would begin to give away his Berkshire Hathaway fortune, then and now worth well over $40 billion.
Buffett has pledged to gradually give 85% of his Berkshire stock to five foundations. A dominant five-sixths of the shares will go to the world's largest philanthropic organization, the $30 billion Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Such dramatic realignments can only happen when effective control of wealth is very concentrated, and the purpose of wealth can be easily redefined. Such as, say, Berkshire Hathaway shares rather than an industrial conglomerate's manufacturing infrastructure. Large-scale wealth tends not to be fungible. Real wealth is tools, process and a cultural network of agreements with people actively engaged in the production of more wealth; everything else is a derivative of some sort.
While great (and purloined) wealth flows through government channels, controlled by comparatively few individuals, that does not amount to effective control. When was the last time a government applied a single billion dollars to successfully changing the world? You can see an example of this sort of failure in progress - waste, conflict and a commons on the way to tragedy rather than real progress - in the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine today. Yet we can point to stunning examples in private or philanthropic investment and endeavor many times over in each passing decade. True responsibility, ownership and accountability for results make all the difference in the world.
Back to the issue at hand: a reminder as to the scope of funds that are controlled by single or comparatively few individuals. Buffet may stand at the apex of wealth, but there are hundreds of billionaires in the world today. A decision by any one of them to enter the modern biotechnology arena with serious intent to defeat aging would change the landscape - just as those already in the pool have already accomplished. But today's progress is too slow, or too vested in conservative, limited-gain approaches, or undertaken with too few resources. If we are to live to see radical life extension, much more must be directed to this goal - as would be the case if more of the world's wealthy philanthropists found their way to our view of aging, biotechnology and the near future.
One very wealthy individual has already placed a first million-dollar vote of confidence with the approach advocated by the Methuselah Foundation and biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey - and many thanks to you for that, whoever you are. What if the wealthy of the world were to repeat this vote of confidence a thousand times over in the course of a decade? A billion dollars could build the large-scale research infrastructure that develops robust rejuvenation in mice, the first step towards the the defeat of aging in humans. Ageless, healthy, biotech-repaired mice, living a life that could be brought to humans with further investment: there would be the world changed. And cheap at the price!
Resources for research must come from somewhere if we are to escape our fate of suffering and death by aging. We must explain our goal; educate the public; raise widespread support; motivate the scientific community. We have made good, strong progress in the past few years - but a long road lies ahead. As a community, we have yet to successfully engage and persuade the wealthiest and most conservative of philanthropists, seeking support for modern, aggressive bioengineering approaches to the problem of age-related degeneration.
We can do this. We must do this. Too many lives, too much suffering is at stake to fail.