Rosemary McLeod:Why altruism if you can get richer

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Hmm, let me see ... what would I do with my spare millions if I were a billionaire, a person who could, say, buy a new outfit every day of my life, wear it once, then put it through a shredder just for the hell of it?

I could toss a few million towards countries where people's arms and legs are blown off regularly by mines, I guess.

Afghanistan is one.

It might take many years to do the job, but the people would get their land back, and lots of lives would be saved.

Nah. Don't think so.

I could plough millions into ensuring that people in the future could enjoy the diverse forms of life on this planet that don't actually deliver a financial benefit, and maybe aren't pretty, but just cause us to marvel.

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I could hire experts to work with kids from minority cultures and discover their best ways of learning, in the interests of equality and fairness in the future.

Or I could eradicate possums, stoats, weasels and feral cats from some vast tract of this country's bush, to give the native plants and birds a chance.

Or not.

I could give millions to people who'd organise decent food for kids who go to school hungry, return home to more of the same, and are abused for good measure.

I could help ensure that some poor families could afford enough warmth to make winter bearable.

I could encourage my equally rich buddies to work out how to save the Amazon jungle, orangutans and polar bears before it's too late.

I could bring the world television with brains, that didn't rely on second-hand mockery of the afflicted (fat people, people with disabilities, attention-seeking dysfunctional families, revoltingly shallow rich people) for ratings under the guise of information programming.

I could save Channel Seven.

I could help pay for clever people to invent efficient transport right now that didn't need fossil fuels, and fuel tankers that couldn't leak their contents out all over sea life in the event of their regular accidents.

I could build faithful replicas of the most-loved buildings that fell down in the Christchurch earthquake, starting with the two cathedrals, and make them safe for any future catastrophe.

I could help the many people trapped in the misery of leaky homes, the hapless victims of collapsed finance companies, and the Christchurch homeowners still fighting their insurers for compensation.

Warming to my task I could build attractive, well-equipped hospices for the dying wherever they're needed in this country.

I could help the destitute victims of the Haitian earthquake of 2010, who still have to scavenge to survive.

But no, these are boring propositions.

There are bigger fish to fry.

This week a group of obscenely rich people, called a consortium, are announcing their wish to mine asteroids for unbelievably rare minerals that could sell for trillions of dollars here on earth.

The plan involves robots, and someone from Nasa - its funding for Mars adventures severely cut back - has produced artwork. Google and Microsoft founders and movie man James Cameron, who recently bought some of the southern Wairarapa, are among the billionaires seeking a test rock so they can investigate the odds of becoming unimaginably richer.

Grossly rich people used to get deep-frozen in the hope that someone would thaw them one day when there's a cure for death.

The asteroid angle is a new one.

But it shows that when people have an immense fortune, nothing pleases them more than chasing a bigger one, while few things are less sexy than altruism.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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