Billionaires giving to get the numbers down

Bill Gates. Ted Turner. George Soros. Warren Buffett. These men all have billions on their minds, and not just their phenomenal personal wealth. Each has contributed large sums to support family planning efforts around the world.

Broadcasting entrepreneur Ted Turner has donated $1 billion to the United Nations, much of it for environmental and population programs. Computer software developer Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda, have set up a philanthropic foundation worth $17 billion, much of it marked for global health and education issues.

"The issues of world health and population are inextricably linked," states the Gateses' Web site outlining foundation grants. "Increasing access to voluntary family planning services," is listed as a "priority area."

Foundations set up by the Rockefeller family and the late David Packard (of Hewlett-Packard fame) provide hundreds of millions of dollars a year to family-planning efforts around the world.

Such giving has not escaped the notice of those opposed to global efforts to slow population growth. The American Life League, a group in Stafford, Va., that opposes abortion and "the destructive effects of the contraceptive mentality on the traditional family and on society as a whole," recently set up a special Web site "to educate Bill Gates" about "the real effects of so-called population control... leading the world to the brink of disaster."

The group's campaign also includes weekly newspaper ads in the Seattle area.

The issue may be highly controversial for billionaire philanthropists, but in a way such giving seems equitable. According to the UN Development Program, the three richest people in the world (Gates and Buffett are No. 1 and No. 3) have personal assets that together exceed the combined gross domestic product of the 48 least-developed nations in the world.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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