Suppose you and I were on the dock at the Boston Tea Party in 1773. Suppose you, being well heeled and generous, gave me a dollar (in 2002 currency value) and, a second later, gave me another. Your means and generosity were lavish, so you and your agents kept giving me and my friends a dollar a second, night and day, 365 days a year. This summer the total of that giving would be $7.2 billion.
University endowments are big, big deals. While university leaders are happy to receive gifts of buildings, they are really happy when someone contributes to endowments. The University of Chicago 110 years ago received its first endowment gifts from John D. Rockefeller. Throughout the 20th century philanthropists kept making generous gifts. By the centennial the endowment had reached $1.2 billion. One year ago the amount had risen to $3.5 billion. (I don’t want to look at what it has dropped to this year, hit by the stock market collapse.)