Remember Bill Gates in the 90s?
Y’know… The power hungry technologist who released derivative, bug-ridden, crash-prone software and made billions off of it due to his licensing deal with computer manufacturers? The guy who was sued successfully by the Department Of Justice for manipulative marketing tactics? The tech world’s public enemy #1?
THAT Bill Gates was an entirely different character from the Gates we know now. The reviled evil-genius mega-billionaire has been replaced by the benevolent philanthropic mega-billionaire, and people seem to have bought it.
It seems hardly anyone remembers the OLD Bill Gates now.
[Well, it seems relatively few people think about Bill Gates AT ALL these days, but that’s besides the point… Those that DO still pay attention to him usually think of him as the warm and cuddly philanthropist and NOT the monopolistic OS guy, even though he’s still quite active at Microsoft.]
In many ways, Gates’ transformation was predictable. From Rockefeller to Carnegie to Gates and Buffett, rich people have historically loved giving away money to good causes. I think that’s, overall, a good thing. I’m not writing to bash those people or cynically say they only do it for the fame and glory. That said, I think that in the case of Gates there’s some grounds for concern. The following are just a few points about Bill Gates’ philanthropic career that, for me at least, make it appear unlikely that his motives are 100% pure.
He’s Obviously Doing It For His Image/Legacy
This is a pretty vague point, admittedly, but it seems obvious to me that Gates works tirelessly day and night to win people over to the cause of… Bill Gates. His philanthropy is about him and his legacy first, about the recipients second. You can tell this, in the first place, by his answers to interview questions. He often says things that do not show any of the nuance we’d expect from someone of his intelligence. In a recent Reddit AmA, someone asked him what his “biggest fear” was. His response:
Kids getting hurt or sick.
“Kids getting hurt or sick?”
Um… Hate to break it to ya Bill, but if that’s your biggest fear, you must be one traumatized individual, because you’re talking about something that happens several times a day every day all around the world. I don’t believe for a second that someone as smart as you can actually give an answer like that honestly. You’re just trying to score points with idiots.
Another example of Gates’ image-pushing can be seen here, in his ice bucket challenge video:
I’m glad this video got some attention for the cause but, do you have to make your video primarily about one-upping the guy who challenged you? Like seriously?
Some Of His Charitable ActivitiesAre Pretty Questionable
A lot of people think that the Bill And Melinda Gates foundation is a “next level” charity that applies a scientific approach to solving problems. This may be the case, but a lot of their activities still suck. Let’s just take a look at a few of them:
1. Investment In Pharmaceutical Companies And Pharmaceutical Patents
It’s well known that the Gates foundation (like all charities) invests its funds in publicly traded companies to maximize return on investment. This, of course, is a wise financial move to make, and it’s also something practically every charity does. But some of the companies Gates invests in have products that run directly contrary to the foundation’s goals!
Pharmaceutical companies, for instance. It’s well known that pharmaceutical companies are notorious “patent trolls,” trying to keep drugs more expensive by prolonging the length of time nobody else is allowed to manufacture them. They won’t spend money on local generic manufacturers that don’t recognize U.S. patent laws. This is one of the major factors keeping African countries from being able to important affordable drugs in large amounts… But we’re supposed to be believe that the Gates foundation is just interested in the poor here, and not his buddies in the board rooms of America.
2. Investment In Monsanto
Gates himself and the Gates foundation are both huge investors in Monsanto.
Yes, that Monsanto… You know, the one that’s using the ludicrous notion of “biological patents” to exercise legal authority over any plant or animal that may be found on a small farm, often actually acting on these patents and putting small farmers out of business. Those guys. I’m sure this is all just helping out the little guy, though, somehow.
3. They Narrow In Selectively On Just A Handful Of Diseases
The Gates foundation has a few ‘pet causes’: AIDs, Malaria, Tuberculosis. He wants to “eradicate” these diseases entirely. There are two problems with this approach:
A. It’s not at all certain that investments in “totally eliminating” a disease will yield any benefit. Despite all the rhetoric about ‘hope,’ it may very well be that some diseases just can’t be cured with available technology or any technology that’s forthcoming in the forseeable future.
B. If this turns out to be the case for some of Gates’ “pet” diseases, the diversion of resources away from basic medical care will have turned out to be a massive misallocation of resources in the name of, basically, trying to achieve “big name” medical achievements… Medical achievements you can get yourself in the newspaper for… vanity achievements.
The Company He Keeps
Last but not least, I just don’t like Gates’ crew, his social circle, his class. For whatever reason, I find the whole TED culture and the “plutocrats for the poor” clique and the Silicon Valley mindset and anything else in that whole upper class ivy-educated liberal scene a bit nauseating. Take Gates’ close friend, Bono. Can you even imagine a more narcissistic, self-aggrandizing human being?
This whole group just has an aura of self-importance about them. They are overachievers of the first order, I’ll grant them that, but they seem to think of themselves as even more than that… as saints. It’s unhealthy to blow yourself up like that, even if you do some good work in the process.
For some reason, among journalists at least, the normal critical ‘lens’ people apply to do-gooding public figures and their supposed motives, has been suspended. I can’t explain why this is. I can’t say if it will really have any major negative consequences any time soon. What I CAN say is that simply taking someone at their word when they claim to be a do-gooder, is not a good idea. There’s plenty of malfeasance that can go on under the guise of a charitable foundation, and in the case of Gates’s, there’s more than one smoking gun in the room.