Sunday, December 3, 2023

Bill Gates, the unaccountable global sovereign

The book “The Bill Gates problem,” written by the investigative journalist Tim Schwab, is more than a severe account of the sophisticated hypocrisy of an individual, Microsoft founder Bill Gates. It is a criticism of the whole system of “philantrocapitalism” by which billionaires are left to deal with some of our collective problems, in the absence of public action.

Bill Gates is probably the billionaire that has gone farther than anyone in the use business tactics, political influence and philantropy to exercise enormous power without accountability.

The founder of Microsoft decided to give priority to his “philantropic” foundation after the public relations fiasco of the Antitrust case that found him abusing his monopolistic position in the operating systems market. He has used the high profile from his Gates Foundation not only to leave behind his past efforts to control a global market, but also to try to hide other reputational problems, such as his proximity to sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein.

An individual that did not finish his studies is today giving lessons all over the world about everything from vaccines to education and agricultural techniques.

Having more money than the World Health Organization, he played an important and active role in the biggest failure of the Covid-19 pandemic: the inability to expand at the global level the success of vaccination programs of the European Union and some other jurisdictions.

Bill Gates has been using unaccountable, unelected power to try to impose his ideas and preferences on global health, US education or agriculture in Africa. Billions of dollars have been wasted giving priority to problems or ways of solving them that were of secondary importance compared to objective priorities. The resources would have been better spent by taxing the individual and his coporate interests and using the proceeds to fund programs with the accountability provided by transparent democratic institutions.

Schwab wonders why should Gates impose his idiosyncratic preferences combined with apparently technocratic solutions with little input from those affected. By subsidizing significant parts of the media and the academia, his colonial mindset has created a machine that occupies the room left by inexistent global structures that should ideally deal with our global problems. It is a machine that incidentally typically uses “technological solutions” from multinationals on which Gates himself often has a financial interest. An illustrative example of his many failures is his attempt to revolutionize the educational system of the USA with technologies that would help teachers to push students to pass homogeneous standardized tests. The failure is being used as a case study of those conditions under which powerful incentives backfire.

As the subtitle of the book reveals, the “good billionaire” is a myth, which is revealed when we know that there has been no trade-off between the charitable actions of the Gates Foundation and the wealth of Mr. Gates: he has become even richer since he has given priority (in his public profile) to the Foundation, remaining among the wealthiest persons in the world.

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