06/19/2010 10:48 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

When The Rich Give, You Can Stand Up and Take a Bow

On my way home from a busy day of meetings, I popped into an upscale retailer whose cafe offers healthy take-out options -- this was one night I really, really didn't want to cook.

Stepping off the escalator, I spotted a line-up of mostly middle-aged women with packages in their hands. I realized it was just before closing time, and everything was half price. Score!

But the body language of the women troubled me, and I thought about it all the way home. They were huddled over their packages with what looked to me like shame. Shame that they were only able to buy discounted foodstuffs? I wanted to run back and say to them -- look, if you were a bunch of men buying buildings at fire-sale prices, your buddies would light cigars and celebrate. Why do we feel so uncomfortable with the fact that we're buying half-price bread?

The next morning, I heard that Bill and Melinda Gates have launched a campaign to persuade America's billionaires to give away (most of) their fortunes. As we all know, Warren Buffett has already done this -- giving his billions to the Gates for their foundation. And now the Gates are clearly hoping that they can apply a kind of peer pressure to other rich folks.

Part of me cheered. Hooray! How great that the wealthy are rethinking how they live and give. But the larger part of me was struck by the contrast between what I'd experienced with my own peer group -- the midlife women buying inexpensive meals -- and these rich philanthropists.

And then it hit me. The money that Gates and Buffett (and the others who've signed the "giving pledge") are giving? Where does it come from? Hmmm? That's right. You and me. Every time I've bought a Microsoft product -- why, I used Word to write this post! -- I've helped Bill build his fortune.

So, every time someone with lots of money gives it away and gets a lot of attention as a result, I want you to stop what you're doing. Stand up. And bow. Because you made their largess possible.

I'd love to see an artist take this on and create an artifact that shows just where each dollars in one of these rich folk's coffers comes from -- would it be as long as the Great Wall of China, as it struggles to list each and every one of us? Please share your thoughts by commenting below. As always, I invite you to email me: Julia (that familiar symbol) wearethenewradicals (punctuation) (suffix).

Julia Moulden is an author, speaker, and columnist. Today, she feels a bit like a rabble rouser. In a good way.