POV: Ayn Rand excerpts on Religion
by Ayn Rand | 1988
The New Atheists
by The Editors | December 05, 2014
Religion in America
by The Editors | December 05, 2014
Religion vs. Freedom
by Onkar Ghate | December 03, 2014
Bernie Madoff, Steve Jobs, and Wall Street Greed
by Don Watkins | September 26, 2013
Abortion Rights Are Pro-life
by Leonard Peikoff | January 23, 2013
Capitalism without Guilt
by Yaron Brook | January 21, 2013
Does America Need Ayn Rand or Jesus?
by Onkar Ghate | June 29, 2011
The Guilt Pledge
by Don Watkins | September 22, 2010
Our Moral Code Is Out of Date
by Yaron Brook | September 16, 2010
Atlas Shrugged’s Timeless Moral: Profit-Making Is Virtue, Not Vice
by Yaron Brook | July 20, 2010
Commercialism Only Adds to Joy of the Holidays
by Onkar Ghate | December 18, 2009
No More Green Guilt
by Keith Lockitch | May 01, 2009
No “Footprint,” No Life
by Keith Lockitch | January 09, 2009
The Easter Masquerade
by Keith Lockitch | March 22, 2008
After Ten Years, States Still Resist Assisted Suicide
by Tom Bowden | November 02, 2007
It Isn’t Easy Being Green
by Keith Lockitch | October 16, 2007
The Road to 9/11: How America's Selfless Policies Unleashed the Jihadists
by Elan Journo | September 10, 2007
The Real Disgrace: Washington’s Battlefield “Ethics”
by Elan Journo | July 28, 2007
Atlas Shrugged — America's Second Declaration of Independence
by Onkar Ghate | March 01, 2007
Religion and Morality
by Onkar Ghate | October 18, 2006
The Jihad on America
by Elan Journo | Fall 2006
The Conservatives’ War on Birth Control
by Keith Lockitch | September 18, 2006
“Just War Theory” vs. American Self-Defense
by Yaron Brook | Spring 2006
The Twilight of Freedom of Speech
by Onkar Ghate | February 21, 2006
“Intelligent Design” Is about Religion versus Reason
by Keith Lockitch | December 11, 2005
Creationism in Camouflage: The “Intelligent Design” Deception
by Keith Lockitch | November 17, 2005
The Foreign Policy of Guilt
by Onkar Ghate | September 29, 2005
The Bait and Switch of “Intelligent Design”
by Keith Lockitch | August 04, 2005
The Faith-Based Attack on Rational Government
by Tom Bowden | June 27, 2005
The “Sin” of Pride
by Edwin Locke | May 18, 2005
Morality of War
by Yaron Brook | September 09, 2004
Council on Bioethics Antagonistic to Man’s Well-Being
by Elan Journo | April 08, 2004
A Passion Against Man
by Onkar Ghate | March 15, 2004
America vs. Americans
by Leonard Peikoff | April 21, 2003
“End States Who Sponsor Terrorism”
by Leonard Peikoff | October 02, 2001
Fact and Value
by Leonard Peikoff | May 18, 1989
On Moral Sanctions
by Peter Schwartz | May 18, 1989
Religious Terrorism vs. Free Speech
by Leonard Peikoff | 1989
Lexicon excerpts on Religion
by Ayn Rand | 1988
Religion vs. America
by Leonard Peikoff | 1986
The Sanction of the Victims
by Ayn Rand | November 21, 1981
The Age of Mediocrity
by Ayn Rand | April 26, 1981
The Intellectual Bankruptcy of Our Age
by Ayn Rand | 1961


Culture And Society in Voice for Reason
Culture & SocietyReligion & Morality

The Guilt Pledge

by Don Watkins and Yaron Brook | September 22, 2010 |

Dear American Billionaire,

Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have asked you to publicly pledge to give away at least half of your wealth to philanthropic causes. So far forty of the wealthiest Americans have signed the Giving Pledge, as it’s known. As people who have an enormous respect for those, like you, who create enormous wealth, we urge you not to join them.

At the beginning of your career, you set out to pursue your passion. Like your peers, you took immense risks, worked grueling hours, tackled complex problems, and experienced your share of bad luck and failure — but you persevered. Maybe you created unrivaled efficiencies that allowed you to charge unbeatable prices, like Richard Schulze of Best Buy . Maybe you found a way to make life and business incredibly more convenient, like FedEx founder Fred Smith. Maybe you helped create a new industry, like Intel’s Gordon Moore. Whatever the details, you became one of the world’s most productive individuals.

But while you may have received financial rewards, satisfaction, and the respect of your peers, the one thing you haven’t gotten for your achievement is moral credit.

The premise underlying the Giving Pledge is that so long as you were pursuing your own goals and well-being, what you were doing wasn’t moral. Only by making the good of others your primary aim and sacrificing your wealth to meet their needs do your actions acquire ethical significance.

Virtually everyone today shares that view — but what if it’s wrong? What if your greatest moral achievement consists, not in giving away your wealth, but in having produced it? What if morality is really about guiding you in making the most of your own life — not commanding you to serve the needs of others? What if the most virtuous thing you can do in life is to pursue your own happiness?

This conception of morality has a long and noble history, stretching back to ancient Greece. Greek philosophers conceived of ethics as a guide to living — to acquiring the virtues necessary to shape your life into the most enjoyable, most successful life it can be. That is also how the Greeks’ modern heir, Ayn Rand, viewed morality. And since creating material wealth is a central requirement of a human life, Rand argued, productive achievement is a profoundly moral activity.

You have produced on a grand scale. Now you have a tremendous amount of wealth at your disposal — more than you could possibly spend on your personal consumption. If the achievement of your own happiness is your goal, then perhaps you will choose to keep your wealth invested in business endeavors. Perhaps you will pass it on to loved ones. Perhaps you will use the money to promote capitalism — the economic system that made your success (and the success of every industrialized nation) possible.

Or perhaps you will donate your money to a charitable cause that matters to you. Like many of the businessmen targeted by the Giving Pledge, you may already fund educational programs in your home town, or medical research to fight an illness you’ve faced. You give to charity out of a benevolent desire to help those worthy of help. That’s perfectly consistent with your pursuit of happiness.

But according to the Giving Pledge, what makes you happy shouldn’t be your primary concern.

It is no accident that the Giving Pledge is not a call for charity but a public pledge to give. As Matthew Bishop and Michael Green observe, “Richesse oblige is part of American culture. The peer pressure to give is great (for donors large and small) . . . The Giving Pledge has upped that peer pressure . . .” The Pledge treats your wealth, not as a justly earned reward, but as a gift from society — one that came with plenty of strings attached. The message is: Fulfill the obligation that came with your riches, give your wealth away — or hide your face in shame.

But your wealth was not an undeserved gift. Every dollar in your bank account came from some individual who voluntarily gave it to you — who gave it to you in exchange for a product he judged to be more valuable than his dollar. You have no moral obligation to “give back,” because you didn’t take anything in the first place.

Your productive achievement and the rewards that go along with it are something you should be proud of, and they are something others should admire. Don’t let anyone treat them as a sin.

Don Watkins

Yaron Brook

About The Authors

Don Watkins

Former Fellow (2006-2017), Ayn Rand Institute

Yaron Brook

Chairman of the Board, Ayn Rand Institute