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Is Bill Really that bad?
December 25, 2000 4:09 PM   Subscribe

Is Bill Really that bad? Giving away money steadily, tens of millions of dollars at a time, Mr Bill Gates has become the single most influential force trying to reverse the growing health crisis afflicting the world's poor. With his wife, Melinda, he outspent the United States Government last year by nearly $US300 million ($538 million), to fight global health threats such as AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.
posted by murray_kester (52 comments total)

 
Yes. He is really that bad. The fact that he has more money than everyone else put together does not change things.
posted by y6y6y6 at 6:29 PM on December 25, 2000


Well, let's see. Either:

1) He's evil, and he's just giving away money in an attempt to appear not-evil.
-or-
2) He's not evil.

... Beats me, I don't know the guy.

But I forgot, this is the 21st century. If he's evil, it's not his fault. He's a victim.

So no, he's not that bad. Have a nice day.
posted by whatnotever at 6:38 PM on December 25, 2000


I don't think he is evil. There are lots of rich people who don't do anything. I am some what sceptical about his motives, but I don't think we should knock him for giving away money to help the poor.

It reminds me of something I read (not on-line though) about Bill lambasting some people at some conference for wanting to give poor people in 3rd world countries computers to stop the digital divide. He said these people can't eat computers and that we should be giving them food and shelter first. For those people who earn only $1 a day they couldn't afford to run a computer so why waste money giving it to them.

Although, he said it some what more eloquently than I did. He is still a prick, but at least he is a prick who is trying to help out those in need.
posted by jay at 6:59 PM on December 25, 2000


Its true the world has a major health crisis. In fact one could argue we are in the middle of the largest die-off of humans in recorded history. Check out the book "Coming Plauge" for some really scary stuff. At some point health care systems break-down and life expentency starts dropping. Russia the prime example. The rest of socialized Europe is on the same path they cant substain the current trends it will crush thier economies. The amount spent on US health care insurance paper-pushing exceeds the US military budget. Total health care costs are %14 of GNP and will be %18 in a few years with no end in site. %50 of health care costs are spent in the last 2-weeks of life. Could go on.. the rise of anti-biotic resistent diseases, the incompetence of global health groups like CDC.. we are worse off now then we have been probably since the end of WWII and its getting worse.. the war against the microbe is going bad folks, real bad, and its not being talked about. Gates is smart he knows what the problem is.
posted by stbalbach at 7:23 PM on December 25, 2000


Why is he evil? You Mac people have to chill out and get a life...So he's a good businessman, how does that negatively affect you? If you don't like windows, you don't have to use it. If he's giving away that's a good thing. I wish more wealth people gave like him.
posted by Bag Man at 8:01 PM on December 25, 2000


A lot of the money from the Gates foundation is going to finance childhood vaccination in the Third World. There are a lot of diseases which have been nearly totally eradicated here in the US which kill hundreds of thousands of children worldwide every year. Those kids can be saved for a very small cost each, but no-one else seems to be willing to come up with the money. Diseases like measles and polio can be completely prevented -- except that they weren't being.

By the way, credit Melinda for most of this. (No joke.)

Unfortunately, in some places this process has gone dreadfully wrong. Administration of the vaccines requires an injection, and syringes are expensive. In some places they just reuse them. So while they're preventing measles and tetanus and polio, they're also spreading AIDS and hepatitis with shared needles because they're using inadequate sterilization techniques. It's a real tragedy.

To counter this, they've started looking into using air-injectors instead of syringes; they're a lot safer. But the equipment needed is a big expense, and it's complicated and can break. (Air injectors is what they used to eradicate smallpox.)

By the way, I wholeheartedly agree with the recommendation of "The Coming Plague"; an outstanding book and extremely well researched. (On the other hand, "The Hot Zone" is a complete waste of time.)

posted by Steven Den Beste at 8:09 PM on December 25, 2000


Jay, that wasn't Bill lambasting people for giving away computers. That was Ted Turner.

And he really took those people to task. It was amazing.
posted by Kikkoman at 8:32 PM on December 25, 2000


"People who thought that developing countries could benefit from the e-economy had no idea what it meant to live on $1 a day with no electricity, said Gates. 'You're just buying food; you're trying to stay alive.'

"The billionaire technologist became positively vitriolic about the idea of using computers in the Third World: 'Mothers are going to walk right up to that computer and say, "My children are dying, what can you do?" They're not going to sit there and, like, browse eBay or something. "

--- Gates Loses Faith In Computers, November 5, 2000 in the Observer of London
posted by lagado at 9:15 PM on December 25, 2000


Nevertheless, his arguments are wrong and yes he is evil.

Anyone that rich is evil, sorry for the bad news guys. Gates may be using a miniscule proportion of his money to deal with admittedly important issues, but the really big issue is the massive and immoral disparity between rich and poor countries. It's also the exploitation of those poor countries by the rich corporations. Gates' corporation is as much part of that system as any other.

The argument that computers are of absolutely no use to the poor is based on the faulty logic that all people are living at starvation levels and the these countries have no infrastructure. The reality is that poor Asian countries such as Lao and Nepal or African countries like Nigeria have infrastructure and education systems which could do with some technology. Effective aid is about finding appropriate technical solutions for the specific circumstances.

It's a complex topic but in my view, while philanthropy is a good thing but it doesn't absolve the guilt of the blood sucking rich.
posted by lagado at 9:33 PM on December 25, 2000


Frankly, I don't care where the money came from, I'm just glad of where it's going. I think the people talking about how Bill is evil or that it's only a "miniscule proportion" of his money are missing the point somewhat. It's nearly one and a half billion US dollars that would otherwise not have gone to help the needy.

Saving lives vs. not saving lives.

I'll take the former any day of the week.


posted by Georgina at 10:43 PM on December 25, 2000


Anyone that rich is evil, sorry for the bad news guys

While the arguments you give do back up the point that anyone at that level of wealth participates in an immoral system, but by the same token it's the only system we have.

I'm not sure if your blanket statement is therefor true-- I don't think you can necessarily say that Gates or anyone else is "evil" for mastering capitalism... uncreative, driven, stubborn, selfish, almost certainly. But to me Evil is pretty black and white, and the level of Gates' participation in the world capitalist structure is pretty grey.


posted by chaz at 11:33 PM on December 25, 2000


I don't know Lagado. I don't see too many people in 3rd world countries buying Bill's software as the piracy rates are extreme. At least he is doing something good with his money.

Can anyone tell me what good is it to give someone who does not have electricity and running water an expensive computer?

It all reminds of Thailand, the country I am presently living in. They had some grand scheme a while back to put computers in all schools. A great idea in theory, but it just sucked in practice. Why? The schools had no money to pay for teachers to learn how to use the computers and no money to pay for the electricity (remember in hot 3rd world countries computers usually need to be placed in air-conditioned rooms). So these computer would sit in the computer room and would only be used occasionally. Guess who got rich? Only those people who supplied/leased the computers to the schools.

While I don't like the idea of information have-nots, I don't think throwing computers at poor people in 3rd world countries is the answer. Give them medicine and help them become self-sufficient. Then once you have done this, you can give them computers, not the other way around
posted by jay at 12:26 AM on December 26, 2000


Does money make one automatically evil? Sure, it can corrupted you. But, it doesn't have to. What if that person is of strong moral fiber and can resisted such temptations. Ok, Bill Gates may be an asshole, but this world is full of them, both rich and poor. Chaz, perhaps you should stop judging people by seize of their wallet, and start looking at the content of their character.
Hey Chaz...would you give 5%, 10%, 40%, 75% of your current income away? If the answer is no, that you can't blame Bill for not doing the same. I'm sure that he has already given away more money that most people will make in their whole life. For that he should be commended. Besides, most of his wealth is tied up in stock and stock options. He can't even see that money without putting himself in poor house. Hence, he could even come close to give a big part of his "income" (which is mostly stock and stock options) even if he wanted to.
posted by Bag Man at 12:53 AM on December 26, 2000


Sure, jay, I know that you're in a good place to see the contradictions. I also agree that there are pitfalls like aid programs delivering inappropriate technology as it solution to development. I guess I was picking on Gates' point that there is no place for computers in the development of the Third World. The Third World is one helluva big place after all and every country's circumstances are different.

Bag Man, I think that you probably meant to direct that comment to me rather than Chaz who was quoting me.

I'm glad my comment generated some debate because up until now its been pretty much about centered around whether we like or hate Bill Gates as a person. I'm saying: Get over personalities, this is about economics and power. Whether Bill Gates is personally evil is irrelevant, in fact he might even be an okay kind of guy, who knows? Honestly I don't care.

What I consider evil is the system of exploitation that exists and is maintained on behalf of transnational corporations. Hence, Bill Gates is evil because of the power he and his corporation wield in that system (perhaps less directly than others but vitally important nonetheless).

It's a system that was originally built by European colonialism but was never dismantled. It's maintained by powerful nations for their own benefit. It denies the vast majority of the world's population a decent life. It condemns one third of the world's population to not even having clean drinking water. It's stacked against agricultural economies developing themselves. It's enforced through direct military intervention or through financial assistance to military regimes.

If anyone can argue that this system actually benefits the Third World then please feel free to clue me in. Until then I will continue to refer to it as a system of exploitation of the powerless by the powerful.

posted by lagado at 3:16 AM on December 26, 2000


It's great that a megabillionaire like Gates is giving some of his money away to important causes. The third world certainly can use it.

However, a lot of that money he's giving away was earned by exploiting permatemps and other odious practices at Microsoft.

Every corporate charity has this "blood money" element to it, so I don't know what redemptive value we should place on robber barons who steal from their employees to give to the poor.
posted by rcade at 5:19 AM on December 26, 2000


rcade: However, a lot of that money he's giving away was earned by exploiting permatemps and other odious practices at Microsoft.

Well then, let's just say that Gates is giving away Jobs, McNealy and Ellison's money. Now - looking at it that way, Bill Gates looks like a modern day Robin Hood!


posted by tamim at 5:47 AM on December 26, 2000


I think he realizes that the effect on his already tarnished public image of NOT giving away a lot of money would be devistating. It's good for business to be charitable sometimes.. so he does it.

These actions, as helpful as they may be, do not take away from twenty years of illegal and unethical business practices.
posted by goto11 at 6:43 AM on December 26, 2000


However, a lot of that money he's giving away was earned by exploiting permatemps and other odious practices at Microsoft.

Yup. And he's giving it to save lives in the third world. Which still makes him, in terms of overall impact, one of the best people in the world.

Put it this way: the way he's using his money, even if he had acquired it through outright armed robbery, it would still be a huge plus for the world. Given the huge inqualities in wealth and opportunity, Gates is redistributing a serious amount of money in the morally correct direction. The unsavory means by which he's acquired that money, in comparision, really are pretty unimportant: they almost all fall in the category of "crimes committed against people who have so much already that they just don't matter."
posted by grimmelm at 6:59 AM on December 26, 2000


Sorry, but I don't buy the idea that things are so good in the U.S. that it's heroic to exploit our workers so the money can be used to feed the poor. Does R.J. Reynolds get a free pass on deceptively marketing poison for generations because it donated to a flood relief campaign?
posted by rcade at 7:18 AM on December 26, 2000


i'm sure Bill Gates is not intentionally evil, but he has some really bad values that produce highly undesirable consequences. rarely do we have the luxury of accurately pegging someone as purely evil or good. yes, he's done some good things, too.

he is a good businessman if you excuse his bad values, megalomania, etc. cf Wired cover story - http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/8.11/microsoft.html

ie, i'm inclined to agree with lagado, that that much wealth is immoral.

and, Georgina, the ideal would be not that much money going to buy crappy, monopolistic software, but going to help other people more directly, without having to go through Bill first.

absolute power corrupts absolutely, remember?

Bag Man, your argument is incomplete - 75% of 50 or 100k is a lot less to live on than 75% of Bill Gates. he's got plenty of disposable income to give. seen his house lately? such luxury is immoral.

grimmelm, your argument is utilitarianism and it is ultimately ethically unacceptable. none of us would like where it goes.


posted by Sean Meade at 7:23 AM on December 26, 2000


such luxury is immoral
Hmmm, seems to be a little class discrimination here. why do some people seem to think of Gates as another Hitler around here, he just runs a shady company. Seanmeade, I'm goping to assume your current wealth level is somewhere in the middleclass (yes, I may be assuming too much, but hear me out). To the average Third World (or hell, Russian) citizen, the amount of luxury you live in is immoral.

As far as MS and their permatemps... that's become standard operating procedure in big business... accept it, or have fun being unemployed.
posted by tj at 8:23 AM on December 26, 2000


Does having $20 in my pocket make me slightly evil? The word morality is being thrown around like there is a standard. The word is subjective, and since I don't think Gates wealth is immoral, it looks mighty queer to see it stated like it is a fact.
Rcade made the strongest argument against the man, and to my reasoning it still does not damn him. The company is not a commune, and there is not need to share the profit equally. I would not want to work as a permanent temp, but if I had no other options available I would be glad for the work, and move on when I could. There are many things I do not like about Microsoft, and I seldom use their products, and always look for ways not to support them, but fair is fair. Microsoft has created wealth for the nation, his personal wealth is his reward for greasing the skids. Don't like it, don't give him your business.
posted by thirteen at 9:09 AM on December 26, 2000


I don't see Larry Ellison choosing not to upgrade his Lear jet in order to put his obscene wealth to some good.

There was some discussion a few years ago about whether the technology billionaires would become philanthropists in the Getty/Rockefeller tradition, or whether the semi-virtual nature of tech wealth would dissuade them from doing so. Gates has matured, possibly due to the responsibilities of wife and family, and possibly because of the high-level contacts with world leaders his personal wealth has brought him.

rcade has a compelling argument, on face value: it's the distinction between the origins and use of riches that plays through a lot of 18th-c philosophy. And you could take a utilitarian line (like grinnelm) and say that the relative discomfort of a Microserf results in the survival of a dozen children through vaccination programmes. And I'm happier with that than to think of Gates buying a fleet of Ferraris.

So: capitalism creates a new aristocracy of the wealthy, often as unsatisfactory as the old one based on blood in its distribution of opportunity according to ability. In which case, I'd say to seanmeade that there's no chance for ethical absolutism here, and we should be warily thankful for Gates' benevolence, for his own sake as well as ours.
posted by holgate at 9:24 AM on December 26, 2000


Does the source of wealth taint it when put to good works? Are the rich evil and the poor noble, or is it that poverty is evil and wealth is enobling? These matters, and some raised in this thread, are very much on my mind these days as I've been working on Shaw's Major Barbara for a production that opens next week. Shaw has a very interesting take on the topics; read, ponder and enjoy.
posted by bradlands at 9:50 AM on December 26, 2000


Good and Evil are rarely boolean. Because one performs an evil act one is not necessarily evil, at least not in totality.

Is Gates evil? Maybe, but certainly not in totality. Has he performed, delegated, instituted, or condoned numerous acts that could be classified as 'evil' from various points of view? Almost certainly. Has he performed, delegated, instituted, or condoned numerous acts that could be classified as 'good'? Almost certainly.

Good and evil are relative judgements not moral absolutes.

The notion of absolute good or absolute evil is typically rooted in stories for the sake of simplification. Life is more complex than that.
posted by plinth at 11:03 AM on December 26, 2000


Bill and Melinda Gates are worth billions - their plan for giving, charity wise, means that only a few million will be left upon their deaths for their children, a giving plan which Mr. Gates has commented on in the past, stating that a few million dollars ought to be enough to start them along any path they choose.

He was being a little snide, but the fact is, for all that he amasses, the ultimate winners are the charities that he and his wife espouse - they may live well now, but he does not want to found a dynasty of billionaires.

Which seems pretty cool to me.
posted by kristin at 12:16 PM on December 26, 2000


It doesn't matter how much money Bill Gates has.
It doesn't matter how much money he gives away.
It doesn't matter how much he leaves his kids.
It doesn't matter whether these charities are worthwhile.

Bill Gates is a power mad, fascist, megalomaniac bent on world domination. His charitable ways may bring forgiveness from some people. But that doesn't change the fact that his goal has always been domination and control.

I find the fact that he "outspent the United States Government last year by nearly $US300 million" to be chilling and cause for alarm.

Do not trust this guy.

(everyone points and laughs at Jon as he careens around the room, frothing at the mouth)

I warned you. You'll be sorry.
posted by y6y6y6 at 1:04 PM on December 26, 2000


It doesn't matter how much money Bill Gates has.
It doesn't matter how much money he gives away.
It doesn't matter how much he leaves his kids.
It doesn't matter whether these charities are worthwhile.

Bill Gates is a power mad, fascist, megalomaniac bent on world domination. His charitable ways may bring forgiveness from some people. But that doesn't change the fact that his goal has always been domination and control.

I find the fact that he "outspent the United States Government last year by nearly $US300 million" to be chilling and cause for alarm.

Do not trust this guy.

(everyone points and laughs at Jon as he careens around the room, frothing at the mouth)

I warned you. You'll be sorry.
posted by y6y6y6 at 1:05 PM on December 26, 2000


Okay, that was weird. Sorry......... My bad.......
posted by y6y6y6 at 1:06 PM on December 26, 2000


Bill Gates is a power mad, fascist, megalomaniac bent on world domination.

I don't see any warrants for those claims. In fact, the reference to the permatemps situation is perhaps the only other example of Mr. Gates' evilness (besides his role in a Multinational corporation, which Microsoft wasn't when he began rolling in the $$)I've seen in this thread. Can no one quantify specific acts that made Bill evil, or is it the cash only?


posted by norm at 1:44 PM on December 26, 2000


I wonder how many people here claiming Bill Gates is "evil" because he is "far too wealthy" have faster cars than they need, Palm Pilots that they could live without, more CPU cycles than they know what to do with, and the latest Star Wars Lego sets.

We should all be ashamed of what we own. None of us are in the position to criticize someone just because they own more than we do. Even if they own a *lot* more than we do.

Mr. Gates is so wealthy it's disgusting. He *did* earn it though. Good for him for not keeping it all to himself. Sure, he's got some shady business practices going on but anyone in his position would do the same thing.

I'm glad he's able to use some of his wealth to help people.

Is he evil, I doubt it. Mr. Burns is evil.

Anyway, none of this matters because the people from Neptune are due to take over any day now.
posted by bondcliff at 2:16 PM on December 26, 2000


Mr. Gates is so wealthy it's disgusting

Such a position does not exist. Wealth is not a whole sum concept.

Fairness the world over will never exist but given time (and I mean more than any of us have) the gap between those that have and those that have a chance will shrink.

Is the world a worse place because of Bill Gates (Where's Clarence when you need him)?
posted by Mick at 2:42 PM on December 26, 2000


Related aside: I wonder how many people are permatemps because they want to be? I wonder how many people worked for ages as MS permatemps and felt exploited but didn't ever do anything to change their own lives or destinies? These people were skilled enough to work for the largest and most profitable software company in the world, they were not without options. My sympathy toward them, and my willingness to paint their "exploiters" as "evil" is highly limited.
posted by Dreama at 2:51 PM on December 26, 2000


I never said he was evil. I don't believe in evil. And I don't care that he has lots of money. I think having lots of money is pretty cool.

But..................

Over the last decade I've programmed for Apple, UNIX, and Windows environments. I've never been a Microsoft employee, but I've partnered with Microsoft development teams on projects. Most of the programming I'm doing right now is NT based web applications.

From this perspective I've watched Microsoft strangle the life out of anything that didn't further cement their monopoly. I've watched them use "innovation" as an excuse to make their own software obsolete every few years. I've watched them create barriers to using computers and the Internet without paying over and over again. I've watched them put out buggy software and then charge for upgrades. Every year. I've watched them push into every new computer niche that came along. I've watched them steal any good idea they could. I've watched them make it impossible for me to do my job without paying them over and over again for the same thing.

Many will label this good business, and perhaps it is.

I label it a domination crazed monopoly that has succeeded in lulling computer users into submission. We don't have a choice. They make it and we have to buy it. No one else is given a chance to compete.

If the same sort of thing had happened to TV - one company having near total control over content, delivery, cost, standards, etc. - we'd all have gone ape-shit years ago. It's like one company having control over the cars we all drive. And the roads. And the gas.

And don't tell me that Bill Gates does not equal Microsoft. I don't believe that for a second. It all Bill.

It's not about Bill's money. It's about Bill. He is that bad. Just my opinion. Yes, he's giving money away at a rapid rate. Wonderful, thumbs up to that. I still don't trust the guy. The thing he's best at is control, domination, and making people all happy with that. Well, I'm not happy damn it!

I could go on all freakin day. I give up.
posted by y6y6y6 at 3:15 PM on December 26, 2000


Good one, y6y6y6 ;-j

All Bill gates is buying with these donations is respectability and acceptance. This is something he's never really had despite his obscene wealth. He's buying his place in holgate's aristrocracy.

The real issues won't even start to be addressed until the corporations are brought to heel. That's not on Bill's agenda.

Of course, it's not on any priviledged western middle class agenda either.

posted by lagado at 4:30 PM on December 26, 2000


i agree with all of the commentary about middleclass USAmerican luxury being immoral by my standards and I agree. it's something i wrestle with philosophically (while i watch my standard of living expand with my income). doesn't there need to be a stopping point? i want to find it myself. of course some of this wealth and morality are relative. but i don't believe they are completely relative.

holgate: of course there's no chance of ethical absolutism. but shouldn't we have ideals that we shoot for? and shouldn't we say something about those who clearly fall outside of those boundaries, at least for the expression of a more just ethic?

no, again it's not so simple: the rich are not evil and the poor are not noble. but the rich have more power for which they are more responsible.

i think the notions of absolute good and absolute evil are absolutely necessary (independent of their objective existence). individuals almost never demonstrate only one or the other. individual expressions are highly relative and operate in many different continua. but the notions are necessary for assessing the relative permutations. to give up the concepts because of the difficulty of application can be an abdication of intellectual rigor.

hi norm. it's not just the cash. it's what he does with the cash - i did mention the house, for example. it's how he got the cash and how he has tried to defend it and what his attitude has been - which link i posted above (). and this is a lot of cash.

on top of that, i hate it that he can lock in such an inelegant os and stifle innovation (but that's not really moral, it's just a non-moral violation of aesthetic values, which is important, but on a different scale).

yes, we should all be ashamed of how much we have, in part (though not all) because our culture pulls us strongly in that direction (eg the need in some towns, in some life situations, to have two cars for a family of four).

but being ashamed does not mean we shouldn't criticize. first, it means we should strive to live more compassionately (by economic choices) in a culture which militates against it and with our twisted personality-parts that constantly yearn for more. we need to become the kind of people who can be contructively critical without being hypocritical. but can we boycott that responsibility because we don't fulfill our own ethic perfectly? is that where we want to be? if so, everyone does her own thing, with no external correction or input, and that's not good either. it's Machiavelli and Nietsche - it's okay to do anything we can do.

Mick, i respectfully disagree. it's possible to be so wealthy that it's disgusting. the world may not be a worse place, strictly speaking, but it could have been better had he lived in a way that takes more account of what's good for others. is that such a bad standard to judge all of our actions by? the major goal is not reward and censure. we all fall short. the major goal is self-awareness and relative personal growth and progression. shouldn't we want to do better?





posted by Sean Meade at 4:31 PM on December 26, 2000


yes, we should all be ashamed of how much we have.

Maybe this is just wishy washy speak here, but I don't really think most people should feel guilty or ashamed of what they have, unless they came about it through immoral means or unless it's something nasty.

I don't feel guilty about having a computer or getting enough food or having warm clothes.

I do think I deserve most of the things in my life. I'm not a particularly good person, although I try to be. I'm not a particularly bad person, although I sometimes do bad things. The thing is that folks with less deserve what I have too, and in most cases there is nothing they can do to obtain it.

That doesn't mean we shouldn't feel discomfort. I'm extremely uncomfortable with the disparity in the distribution of resources. It disgusts me. It angers me. And I feel obligated to do something, but not out of guilt. So I volunteer, and when I have a little money I give it to reputable organizations which are doing what they can to fight this disparity.

I'm not a Christian (& I'm not a master storyteller either), so forgive me if I get this wrong, but I seem to remember a bible story about weath: A rich man went to the temple and donated large sums of gold. Then a poor man went to the temple and gave only one coin. Jesus was watching this with one of his disiples, and said, "The poor man is going to heaven." When the disciple looked on in amazement, Jesus explained: "The reach man has much more gold at home, but the poor man gave every thing he had."

Okay, I'm a really crappy storyteller, but I hope my point sort of comes across.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 4:56 PM on December 26, 2000


crouton, I get your point, but look at all the rich men (no I am not being sexist but most rich people are men). I don't see too many of them doing much to help the world's poor. Of course there are/were a few, but the great majority don't. I am not sure if your Biblical story is the Lazarus one or the widow who gave away a mite.

I don't think Gates is any angel and to be honest I don't particularly like the fellow. I think he is hypocritical, but I will only knock him if he does something wrong. This time he done some good. What if all the billionaires in the world gave away the same percentage of their money as Gates every year to these very causes. For me, it is not just the amount of the money Gates has given away, but also the causes he has given the money to.

Lagado, you could be correct by saying that all Bill is doing is trying to buy respect, but I don't see too many people here praising him (Although, my praising him does back up your point). Perhaps it could even turn people against him as they only think he is doing is for his image. However, you could say that for anyone and that people will only help other people so that others will think better of them or they will feel better about themselves, i.e the only reason Mr and Mrs Smith give to charity is that they can fell less guilty about their wealth or feel better about themselves. This may be the case, but isn't it better they give some of their money away to good causes. I do agree with you though it would be good if corporations had less power, but I don't see that happening.

"Philanthropy is the refuge of rich people who wish to annoy their fellow creatures." -- Oscar Wilde
posted by jay at 6:56 PM on December 26, 2000


Being ashamed of what you have, if you have it through legitimate means, is self-defeating. There's no purpose to it, and it cheapens the emotion. Shame ought to be reserved as that mechanism which keeps us in check when we have done something wrong; it should not be our daily reaction to having items which are part of our society's mainstream, bought with money that we have earned from doing a job, and presumably doing it well.

Crouton -- the point of the parable, which you've given the jist of, is not the relative quantity of the gift (in terms of percentage) but the willingness of the giver. The point is to be willing to give abundantly and freely, so much so that you are willing to give all that you have. (It was actually a widow who gave two mites, but blah blah blah technicalitycakes.)

Jay -- charitable giving has been on the rise in the US for the last five years, and the rich most certainly do give, if for no other reason than for the tax deductions. There are countless foundations, all bankrolled by the "rich" that hand out millions and millions for every imaginable purpose. They give, quietly and behind the scenes most often, because unlike some people (like Bill Gates) most philanthropists aren't interested in public acclaim for their good works.
posted by Dreama at 7:25 PM on December 26, 2000


re: the parable (Mk 12.41-44 and Lk 21.1-4)

while it's true that the parable should not be interpreted as arguing for a percentage, 'willingness' should at some point become actuality, or it may not be willingness at all.

there's no need to feel guilty about having warm clothes. but do they have to be Gap or Abercrombie or [insert favorite appelation here]? i'm including myself in this critique.
posted by Sean Meade at 7:39 PM on December 26, 2000


Dreama: I've worked as a permatemp in newspaper journalism in a rough employment market, and it can be extremely difficult to find full-time work in that situation. Companies are less willing to offer full benefits to employees when they can get permatemps to do the same work. A friend sued the company to stop the practice and has subsequently been blackballed from the paper, one of only two large papers in the area.

My point on permatemps isn't that it proves Bill Gates is evil. But if he has the urge to give away his money to prevent his kids from getting it, why not give some of it away to the people who earned it -- his employees?
posted by rcade at 8:30 PM on December 26, 2000


Now I get it, it is all no win Christian nonsense. We are all evil, we should always put ourselves last, etc. I consider some of the basic beliefs of Christianity to be immoral, the weakest, sloppiest religion I have ever encountered. I guarantee you all I was born without sin.
Take care of yourself, and the world will be a better place.
posted by thirteen at 9:15 PM on December 26, 2000


Um. Capitalism is neat. :)
/me ducks and covers..
posted by owillis at 10:15 PM on December 26, 2000


Oops, wrong link. This is the right one, and it was originally supplied by Mr. JohnB
posted by thirteen at 11:12 PM on December 26, 2000


Shame ought to be reserved as that mechanism which keeps us in check when we have done something wrong; it should not be our daily reaction to having items which are part of our society's mainstream, bought with money that we have earned from doing a job, and presumably doing it well.

I sit at a computer all day every day, pushing pixels around. That's my job and I do it well. I have this job because I was fortunate enough to be born in the United States, to parents who worked hard and put me through college, where I learned the skills that got me into the position I'm in. I have many material comforts and entertainments, which I enjoy very much.

Meanwhile, I'm wearing shoes that someone in Sri Lanka probably got paid about 12 cents to sew together.

Do I deserve comfort and happiness more than the nameless sweatshop worker who made my shoes? Is my labor really worth so much more than hers? No, of course not. I was lucky; I was born in the cookie jar. And it's an evil thing that I am, by most standards, wealthy, simply because of the accident of my birth, while others are desperately poor for the same blameless reason. I am aware of this. I am aware that the ethical thing for me to do would be to live far more minimally, and give the bulk of my earnings away to carefully chosen charities who work to ameliorate the inequalities of the world we live in.

Instead, I make token attempts to spend money responsibly, avoiding brand names that are known to participate in exploitation, shopping at small local stores instead of large chains. Mostly, though, I succumb to a sense of entitlement, as though I earned my good fortune, as though my meager efforts to direct my lucky wealth are enough. But now and then, I feel shame that I participate in this delusion, that I benefit from it immensely. This shame reminds me that I am doing something wrong... by not doing much of anything at all.

It's one of the few things that wakes me up from my complacency to take some action, so I say, thumbs up to shame.
posted by wiremommy at 12:39 AM on December 27, 2000


I agree chaz, seeing things in black and white can tend to obscure issues.

I guess I would have a lot more respect for what Gates is doing if I didn't know he was doing it. I see the contradiction in that statement and acknowledge the problems that come with trying to do good anonymously.

I have also heard the point of view that it might be unfair to (in effect) over charge for products and then decide what to do with some of the monies that accrue from that practice. Should we have a say in where the monies go? Should we in fact not have been overcharged, and decide ourselves where we want these monies to go? Does it become a form of taxation?

Actually, I don't have a problem with where Bill is targeting these monies. If I did though, I think some of these questions would become important.

Again we see the uneasy relationship between capitalism and philanthropy, and ask, who should govern where charitable dollars go?

I do think he has a salient point about computers often doing no good whatsoever, when one hasn't tackled the underlying causes of poverty.

Thanks for the book recommendation, much appreciated.


posted by lucien at 5:04 AM on December 27, 2000


Hey don't beat up on yourselves too much. It's the system that's sucking the wealth out of the Third World not whether you personally decide to order extra cheese on your pizza!

If you want to do something then try supporting efforts to put in place decent labour laws that are binding on corporations no matter where they employ their labour.

Boycott Nike, for example, not because it's a brand name that advertises overpriced shoes on TV but because its one of the world's most notorious exploiters of Third World labour.

posted by lagado at 5:19 AM on December 27, 2000


Fairness the world over will never exist but given time (and I mean more than any of us have) the gap between those that have and those that have a chance will shrink. -mick
Mick, in the past two decades at least, the gap has been increasing. And simply because I find Molly Ivins to be such a good read, here is a similar column, two years earlier more salient to Bill Gates.
posted by plinth at 6:06 AM on December 27, 2000


I consider some of the basic beliefs of Christianity to be immoral, the weakest, sloppiest religion I have ever encountered.

thirteen: you are entitled to your opinion about the immorality and weakness of Christianity. however, there are objectively intellectually rigorous forms of Christianity. to opine otherwise is to think sloppily yourself. perhaps you've never encountered them, in which case you're prejudiced. perhaps you have and are simply wrong.

nb: it is okay to malign the 'basic beliefs' of Christianity, but if anyone were to malign the basic beliefs of Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Wicca, neopaganism, New Age, etc on MeFi, she would be jumped. it's okay in this cultural climate, though, to attack Christianity openly. with other metabeliefs, we at least extend the political correctness of expressing ourselves constructively or keeping our opinion to ourselves.

posted by Sean Meade at 7:14 AM on December 27, 2000


I guess I would have a lot more respect for what Gates is doing if I didn't know he was doing it.

And I'd have a lot more respect for the governments of wealthy nations if they weren't put to shame by the philanthropy (self-edifying or not) of one private citizen. For sure, the Gates Foundation name-stamps every dollar it donates, but it serves an additional purpose in highlighting the relative avarice of states. (vide Jubilee 2000 passim.)
posted by holgate at 7:49 AM on December 27, 2000


Well, to drag this, screaming, back on-topic... :-)

Is it good that Bill Gates donates money for healthcare? Yes.

Does this have *any bearing at all* on what kind of a person/businessman he is?
Probably not.
posted by baylink at 8:13 AM on December 27, 2000


Is it good that Bill Gates donates money for healthcare? Yes.

Even better, his company could try paying tax.
posted by lagado at 4:00 AM on December 28, 2000


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