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May 10, 2003 12:22 PM   Subscribe

Earth to Bill Gates: Thank you This little editorial that appeared recently is (obviously) dancing on the fringe of cheesiness, but it begs an interesting question about philanthropy and the world's richest man. Gates appeared on Bill Moyers' NOW last night, and was reasonably candid (he used the phrase "failure of capitalism"), mentioning more than once that he intended to give away ~95% of his wealth, mostly to aid public health. Our perceptions of his politics aside, it would seem as if Gates intends to go out with a humanist bang.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly (41 comments total)

 
I happened to be back home to little ol' Watertown, So. Dak, this week and was shocked yesterday to hear that Gates and Tom Brokaw were in town for the afternoon (mefi/mefi). He was at the town library to see how the grant from the Gates Foundation was being used. Guess it's gonna be on NBC Nightly News on Tuesday. I just thought it was interesting that he came to this podunk little burg just to see how they were spending his money.

Also, I overheard that they were heading to the courthouse for filming, so I beat them there and was the only non-news person there to take photos of them (the whole visit was kept pretty quiet from what I can tell).

I did not have time to swing by the bakery to pick up a cream pie.
posted by DakotaPaul at 12:54 PM on May 10, 2003


I am not a fan of Bill Gates as a businessman, in many regards. But any distaste that I had for him as a human being was certainly proved to be misplaced when he started the Gates Foundation. Gates will likely prove to be the greatest philanthropist in all time, should he come even close to achieving his philanthropic goals.

FWIW, I'm the great-great-great-great grandson of George Peabody, the inventor of modern philanthropy. (He gave away everything -- nothing for my family, I'm afraid.) So when I say that Gates may prove to be the greatest philanthropist of all time, I do so willingly to the comparative detriment of George Peabody.
posted by waldo at 1:07 PM on May 10, 2003


I hope MS's board is OK with him selling off huge chunks of stock. Also, I hope he does more than just give away a bunch of PCs that require software from Microsoft to run them.
posted by Space Coyote at 1:40 PM on May 10, 2003


Helping the neediest, and financing global health initiatives is a good thing. With the current administration wringing their hands over any initiatives that involve the use of condoms, it's good to know that someone of means is helping to turn the tide of AIDS, etc.

That said, giving away 95% of billions of dollars still leaves Gates with billions of dollars. It's admirable, but when you think about it, what else could he possibly spend the money on? He already has holdings in various media companies, etc. Aside from purchasing a small nation, I'd imagine he's already got everything that money can buy.

Same goes for other philanthropists - Soros, Turner, Peabody. There comes a point where it's easier to give money away than it is to spend it.

But good on Gates anyway. I hope he makes a difference.
posted by aladfar at 1:52 PM on May 10, 2003


I hope MS's board is OK with him selling off huge chunks of stock. Also, I hope he does more than just give away a bunch of PCs that require software from Microsoft to run them.

I used to have this cynical assessment. In the interview, he talked about how that was actually the most natural-feeling course for his philanthropy to take, but when he took some computers to (I believe) Mozambique, he saw that the people there could give a sweet fuck about computers when they needed food and drugs.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 2:12 PM on May 10, 2003


Ignatius, it usually takes some personal experience to change your attitude or open your eyes. A few years ago I nearly died from a nasty case of malaria, and am now damned grateful for first-world medicine. I got it when I was in the northern moutains of the Laos/China border, and I kept thinking about the members of the Hmong tribe I was staying with, who weren't as fortunate to have anybody in the rest of the world give a damn about them. Bill Gates may be a tycoon, but he's the only extremely wealthy person doing anything about this disease that kills more than 3 million people a year. If he follows through with the 95% numbers, he'll still have plenty to leave his heirs and have the potential to fundamentally change mankind for the better.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:36 PM on May 10, 2003


Also, I hope he does more than just give away a bunch of PCs that require software from Microsoft to run them.

Well, he already has. The Foundation, for example, has give more than $3billion for world health projects since it's inception and I don't see how that promotes the Windows monopoly.

Microsoft works daily to crush my company and take food out of my mouth, but I can't see how there is even an argument about whether what the foundation is doing is a good thing.
posted by donovan at 5:06 PM on May 10, 2003


Civil_Dis: Malaria is one of the easiest to conquer diseases on the planet - all you have to do is DDT the mosquitos. That's why large swaths of Latin America/Carib are malaria-free. I dunno if the more environmental among us would support such a plan, though, as DDT still has negatives, Carson's exaggerations aside.

Good on Gates for putting his money toward these diseases. If anything, global health has been the success story of 20th century internationalism - smallpox conquered, polio all but conquered, water far safer (though, as noted, still not safe enough).
posted by Kevs at 5:34 PM on May 10, 2003


I am, despite myself, beginning to develop a grudging admiration for mr. Gates.
posted by spazzm at 7:30 PM on May 10, 2003


Gee, yeah, it's really fucking great to hear how many wonderful things that convict gets to claim credit for as he spends my money. Hey, here's a thought for your next bit of philanthropy: how about not trying to turn my own damn pc into a locked down box that needs TimeWarner's permission to manipulate files? Thanks, I'll be waiting over here.
posted by NortonDC at 7:31 PM on May 10, 2003


Big deal.
posted by mcgraw at 8:50 PM on May 10, 2003


Hey NortonDC: I don't remember you being forced to use his computer software (or a computer, for that matter).
If you don't like him (or his company), don't give him (or it) money.

And this comes from a die-hard Windows user.
posted by grum@work at 9:48 PM on May 10, 2003


While I may agree to disagree about Gates qua philanthropist, nothing excuses the misuse of the phrase "to beg the question."

Sorry to nitpick--it's a pet peeve.
posted by vraxoin at 10:20 PM on May 10, 2003


Reminds me of the frat rats at our local college, who hold a canned food drive for orphans every Christmas imagining that it somehow makes up for the fact that they are obnoxious beer-barfing twits the rest of the year.
posted by RavinDave at 10:59 PM on May 10, 2003


Kevs: Malaria is one of the easiest to conquer diseases on the planet - all you have to do is DDT the mosquitos
Kevs, DDT hasn't been effective since the 50's. Inpregnated bednets at a cost of $5 each would prevent 90% of the 1 million deaths per year. It's just getting them in the right hands.
posted by poodlemouthe at 11:18 PM on May 10, 2003


I find it inspiring that Bill Gates may become the single individual directly responsible for saving more human beings than any person in history. It is astonishing how little stands between life and death for millions in the third world. A dollar for a vaccination may be all it takes to save a child's life. The Gates Foundation is dedicated to addressing the inequities in health care that cause so many deaths. Gates applies the same talents that made his business successful. He holds grant recipients to high standards for performance and requires responsible accounting of results. This ensures that the dollars go where they will do the most good. It is equally astonishing how little the wealthy countries of the world contribute to easily prevented or cured third world diseases like malaria, polio and tuberculosis.
posted by JackFlash at 11:24 PM on May 10, 2003


grum@work, Microsoft is convicted of abusing its monopoly and, among many other abuses, forcing pc manufacturers to pay for an operating system license whether or not a pc they shipped had an MS OS.

So try remembering harder.
posted by NortonDC at 11:27 PM on May 10, 2003


I'll reiterate again what I've said so many times in the past about Bill Gates vs charlatans like Mother Teresa. Gates is actually addressing the solving of real problems of 3rd world poverty- and I recall he rather loudly declared a few years ago that the techno-libertarian nerdboy types who really thought PCs, the internet, and e-commerce were going to cure 3rd world problems had their heads up their asses because basic diseases and lack of clean water were killing the world's most poor. By way of comparison, that evil hellspawn Teresa used some nice stock footage of dying people in her "hospitals", which were medically useless hostels for poor Hindus to lay in pain and then die while being baptized Catholic against their will, to raise countless millions for the Vatican and fill various bank accounts scattered around the globe with countless millions, and to spend her time self-righteously hobnobbing with the wealthiest scum of the earth dictators she could. Bill's a freakin' saint compared to Teresa the Destroyer!

NortonDC: When you regale us with your tales of helping the poor and needy, and your personal commitment to compassion for others, then you can talk. But even if you hate Bill Gates, his foundation underscores that if you have to have billionaires in our world, they might as well be Bill. I'd rather he make that money than Larry Ellison, since Bill will spend it on simple, cheap, yet life-saving vaccinations, whereas Larry would just hire a more expensive hooker to greet him after he tried vainglorious racing jet planes or hot-air balloons to compensate for his itty-bitty wee-wee.
posted by hincandenza at 12:21 AM on May 11, 2003


hincandenza: Testify!
posted by donovan at 1:56 AM on May 11, 2003


(Hauls in wheelbarrow full of tacos).

"Ahh, yes ... this should provide adequate sustinance for the pending flamefest. Proceed ... "
posted by RavinDave at 2:17 AM on May 11, 2003


Don't mind me, I'll just be standing here by this wheelbarrow.
posted by chrid at 2:48 AM on May 11, 2003


Yum, tacos...
posted by notsnot at 9:17 AM on May 11, 2003


RavinDave, how about some food for the Atkins crowd over on this side of the flameproof couch?
posted by billsaysthis at 9:28 AM on May 11, 2003


Yes, hincandenza, you are ignorant of what I do for the poor. The fact that you don't hear about what I do for the needy is just one more of the ethical differences between me and Bill Gates.

The fact that I'm not doing it with extorted money is another.
posted by NortonDC at 10:01 AM on May 11, 2003


I like the idea of Gates being a complex man with many sides. Much more interesting story, reminiscent of this guy.
posted by gimonca at 11:10 AM on May 11, 2003


I think it's great that he's doing what he's doing, but I'd just like to point out that basically anyone with over 100 million dollars who isn't planning on giving away 95% of his wealth (yes I know management and investment etc may be necessary to ultimately produce the most good - that's what foundations do; I just mean you can keep 5 mill or so for yourself, but the rest should be in a foundation or your business) is just a greedy creep.
posted by mdn at 11:26 AM on May 11, 2003


Yes, hincandenza, you are ignorant of what I do for the poor. The fact that you don't hear about what I do for the needy is just one more of the ethical differences between me and Bill Gates.

The fact that I'm not doing it with extorted money is another.


And another difference is that even if you are 100% ethical, basic concepts of scale pretty much preclude you from having as much of an impact as Gates. Obviously, that is true of every mefite, so it is not some personal "knock," but just more evidence of the fact that the world may not be black and white.

if you have to have billionaires in our world, they might as well be Bill.

Only time will tell, but I suspect that may just about say it all.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 12:19 PM on May 11, 2003


grum@work, Microsoft is convicted of abusing its monopoly and, among many other abuses, forcing pc manufacturers to pay for an operating system license whether or not a pc they shipped had an MS OS.

So try remembering harder.


That's a lovely bit of information NortonDC but it has absolutely squat to do with what I said.

To reiterate: Hey NortonDC: I don't remember you being forced to use his computer software (or a computer, for that matter).
If you don't like him (or his company), don't give him (or it) money.


Where exactly did I say he was an upstanding corporate citizen? Or that his company is wholly benevolent? I use his software because it's part of my job, not because I think he's the greatest man on earth.

All I said is that if you don't like the man (or the company) there ARE ways of not giving him money. Building your own computer (by parts, therefore avoiding anything to do with Dell/Gateway/Compaq or any other manufacturer) and installing your own operating system (Linux, for example) and using non-MS software (like Corel). At no point will you be giving him (or his company money).

But if you feel like railing against Gates and Microsoft at random, feel free. Just don't make such an ass out of yourself by taking swings at other people without reading what they say.
posted by grum@work at 3:44 PM on May 11, 2003


Nice try, grum@work, and maybe others will fall for your smearing of past and present to cover up your false description of the past, but your original statement did completely misrepresent reality. I was, in fact, forced to buy a complete PC in a time when Microsoft was running rampant with its monopoly powers. The time was 1990 and the requirement came from my engineering university.

The possibility that highly technical users may now avoid paying for a Windows license by cobbling together a PC from parts does not change what happened before, and your previous post did explicitly address past actions I was forced to participate in.

Wanna accuse me of not reading what you wrote again? And as far as looking like an ass, I can't say that your judgement is carrying much weight right now.

So, again, try remembering harder before telling me what I had to go through.
posted by NortonDC at 4:07 PM on May 11, 2003


So, again, try remembering harder before telling me what I had to go through.

Maybe after malaria and AIDS go away, you can get some free somethin'.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 4:53 PM on May 11, 2003


Free? I already paid for it. That's the point.
posted by NortonDC at 5:20 PM on May 11, 2003


You're right. I wasn't trying to suggest that Micrososft is remotely in the right. I would, however agree with the author of the article:

Yes, our right to have a choice in operating systems is important. But it is nothing compared to the right of a child in India or Uganda to live free of crippling disease. On the most important issue, Gates passes the test with flying colors.

And I chose Linux.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 7:52 PM on May 11, 2003


...all I said is that if you don't like the man (or the company) there ARE ways of not giving him money. Building your own computer (by parts, therefore avoiding anything to do with Dell/Gateway/Compaq or any other manufacturer...
... highly technical users may now avoid paying for a Windows license by cobbling together a PC from parts ...

Or you could do an even better deed by supporting one of your local small businesses who will supply you with a quality PC made to your specifications, with no OS or with your choice of OS installed and configured if you swing that way. You certainly do not need to be highly technical to buy from a local company rather than a multi-national. In fact, there are probably more places where you can buy a PC built the way you want it than there are places who will force you to buy a Microsoft product. I use this company for all my computer needs, both personal and business and have never been forced to buy Microsoft (although I choose to). I also get to support a business who puts its money back into the local community. There are any number of these businesses everywhere - all you have to do is open your eyes.

I guess some people will take any chance they can to slag Bill Gates but, at the end of the day, he has chosen to do good with his money rather than hoard it for his heirs to piss up against the wall or to pay for his own personal bevy of playboy bunnies on call 24/7 and I, for one, tips me 'at to 'im.
posted by dg at 10:31 PM on May 11, 2003


He may have chosen to do good with his money, but that doesn't excuse the fact that he was able to accumulate such a hoard in the first place. You can only get so far on your own efforts; exploiting other people's efforts is the only way to build up a fortune as big as Gates'.
posted by Mars Saxman at 9:57 AM on May 12, 2003


How did he exploit others efforts any more than every company exploits the effort of its' workers? He built a company from scratch, he marketed it well, he filled perceived needs in the market with products that people wanted to buy. He may have stepped on a few toes along the way, but so has any successful businessman.

While being constantly amazed and disgusted by the "Tall Poppy Syndrome" here in Australia, I have equal feelings about the way Americans react whenever the name Bill Gates is mentioned. In any case, he could not have accumulated such a fortune without the willing assistance of the public - there are and have always been alternatives to Microsoft products, but most are too lazy to look around them and simply take the path of least resistance.
posted by dg at 3:08 PM on May 12, 2003


dg, Microsoft is already convicted. That they were found guilty of breaking the law and abusing their monopoly is not open for discussion. Tall poppy syndrome does not explain away criminality.
posted by NortonDC at 4:06 PM on May 12, 2003


I was, in fact, forced to buy a complete PC in a time when Microsoft was running rampant with its monopoly powers. The time was 1990 and the requirement came from my engineering university.

The possibility that highly technical users may now avoid paying for a Windows license by cobbling together a PC from parts does not change what happened before, and your previous post did explicitly address past actions I was forced to participate in.


I had no idea that getting your local small business computer company to put together a computer was considered "highly technical".

I also apologize for not being able to read your mind or do some research into your past 13 years ago and discover that you were manhandled by your department into buying a Microsoft-operated PC (which was only Windows 3.0 at the time, assuming you bought late in 1990).

I have to assume that since you are so vehemently against Gates/MS that you've since broken free of the Microsoft shackles and now have a computer with Open Source software installed. If so, good for you. I have no problem delivering kudos to someone who stands up for their beliefs like that.
posted by grum@work at 6:03 PM on May 12, 2003


I was, in fact, forced to buy a complete PC in a time when Microsoft was running rampant with its monopoly powers. The time was 1990 and the requirement came from my engineering university.

Oh, POOR FUCKING BABY.
posted by solistrato at 7:55 PM on May 12, 2003


solistrato, you have a good day, too.

grum@work, you didn't have to read my mind, just what I wrote. But no, you clearly knew history, including my own, better than me, and proceeded to tell me about it. Too bad you were completely wrong.

Big of you to admit it (any second now...)
posted by NortonDC at 8:08 PM on May 12, 2003


dg, Microsoft is already convicted.
Yes, of violating their monopoly, not of exploiting the efforts of others. That is a judgement you make personally. Just because a company commits a crime does not mean that they are automatically guilty of everything else that you want to throw at them.

NortonDC, since you did not dispute grum@work's statement that you do not use Microsoft products, I guess we can assume you are completely free of MS products in any computing environment that you have personal control over? Like grum@work, I give kudos to those who say they do not like what MS stands for and then put their money (or not, if it is open-source) where their mouth is. However, if you are just another hypocritical MS-basher who runs to the computer store as soon as the latest version of Windows comes out, you should have a think about whether you have the right to oppose the company so vehemently.
posted by dg at 10:32 PM on May 12, 2003


dg - not of exploiting the efforts of others.
Right, tell that to Stac. Microsoft stole the code for Stac's product and incorporated it into DOS. Stac sued and won 120 million dollars and Microsoft was ordered by the court to recall and destroy DOS 6.

dg, do your doubts about me have any impact of the reality of Microsoft's criminality? I'd love to hear how. As for what software I use, at work the OS for desktop machine I use is outside my control and is Windows. I browse from work using an opensource browser, but you knew that since you'd read my MetaTalk posting history to avoid casting ignorant and unfounded aspersions on me, right? From home, it's the same story, with a company controlled laptop, again with browsing done from an open source browser. The internet domain I co-own (and is self-administered) is a pure opensource operation run on Alpha hardware.

DOS 5 was the last time my personal money went to Microsoft. You remember DOS 5, right? It's the one right before the version MS was found in court to have stolen code and broken copyrights for.

Now that you know all that about me, how the hell does that information affect the reality that Gates's was enriched by the illegal activity of his company?
posted by NortonDC at 8:12 AM on May 13, 2003


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