Buffett: Billionaire Pied Piper
The most visible of the super-rich Robin Hoods is investor Warren Buffett, who has persuaded dozens of billionaires to give away large portions of their fortunes. Buffett, 83, is the second-richest American, according to Forbes magazine, with a net worth of $58.5 billion. He heads Berkshire Hathaway, (BRK.B) which owns everything from the insurance company GEICO and Dairy Queen to underwear maker Fruit of the Loom.
For years, he has advocated policies to close the wealth gap, saying reforms are necessary for the nation's continued prosperity. Buffett has famously complained that he pays a lower tax rate than some of his most menial-wage employees. That's because, as is the case with many moguls, much of his income comes from capital gains and dividend payments, which are taxed at a lower rate than ordinary wages. His activism gave rise to Obama's proposed "Buffet rule," which would ensure that anyone making more than $1 million per year pay at least the same rate as middle-income taxpayers.
The self-made Omaha, Neb., magnate has also for years targeted unequal wealth accumulation. Buffet advocated for a progressive estate tax before members of Congress, saying in 2007, "Dynastic wealth, the enemy of a meritocracy, is on the rise. Equality of opportunity has been on the decline. A progressive and meaningful estate tax is needed to curb the movement of a democracy toward plutocracy."
Buffett, who did not immediately respond to questions submitted via his assistant, has played a key role in encouraging his peers to redistribute their wealth by choice. In 2010, he launched the Giving Pledge program, in which wealthy entrepreneurs publicly promise to donate at least half of their riches to charity. Adherents include Facebook (FB) CEO Mark Zuckerberg, oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.