Current Affairs - May 4, 2021

This is why it is worth examining Gates’ career and philanthropic work closely. His career shows the way ruthlessness and the pursuit of self-interest are far more important than “innovation” in making a person rich, but it also shows the problems of relying on Good Billionaires to address serious social problems. Since the time of steel baron Andrew Carnegie, tycoons have had a philosophy: you can make your money as ruthlessly as possible, as long as you do Philanthropy afterward.

Bill Gates has long been one of the most powerful people in the world. For many years, he was the world’s richest man, though he has lately rotated in the slot with Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk. Since retiring from his position as Microsoft’s CEO in 2000, Gates has become a celebrated figure in world philanthropy, with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) spending astronomical sums on health and education initiatives. The BMGF is the largest private charitable foundation in the world, and spends more on global health each year than the World Health Organization (WHO) and many whole countries. (The BMGF is run jointly by the Gateses, though the effects of the couple’s recently-announced divorce are unclear.)

Gates’ new book on climate change has brought him applause from the mainstream press (Fortune even let him take over as editor for a day, the first time it has ever extended that privilege), although Gates himself has one of the biggest carbon footprints of any human being in the world. He lives in a 66,000 square foot mansion with 24 bathrooms that is worth $145 million, which he calls (seriously) “Xanadu 2.0.” It was built using half a million wood logs from 500-year-old trees. According to an academic study, just his prolific private jet time emitted 1,629 tons of carbon dioxide in 2017 alone.

This is why it is worth examining Gates’ career and philanthropic work closely. His career shows the way ruthlessness and the pursuit of self-interest are far more important than “innovation” in making a person rich, but it also shows the problems of relying on Good Billionaires to address serious social problems. Since the time of steel baron Andrew Carnegie, tycoons have had a philosophy: you can make your money as ruthlessly as possible, as long as you do Philanthropy afterward. Gates is a latter-day Carnegie. He is one of the most “benevolent” among the uber-rich, having pledged to give most of his fortune away (nevertheless, it continues to grow) and devoting himself to health and climate change. And yet even he, the best of the bunch, embodies the fundamentally dysfunctional nature of wealth accumulation and philanthropy. The outsized influence of Gates on education policy has shown the problems that come with allowing billionaires to meddle in the democratic process. Gates’ fortune came at the expense of the rest of us, and while his philanthropy has many positive effects, it ultimately reflects an undemocratic and unaccountable way of delivering benefits, and Gates himself can only be in the position he’s in because we live in a deeply unjust world. ...
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