The media is certainly lapping up everything the billionaire philanthropist and founder of Microsoft has to say at the moment – he’s being hailed as a so-called visionary for predicting a pandemic on his TED Talk in 2015 – but in reality he offers no new insights.
He merely sounds like a well-briefed parrot repeating what experts are already telling the world.
It begs the question: what qualifications does this college dropout, or any other billionaire philanthropist for that matter, have that makes their opinions any more valuable than, say, Donald Trump?
It may be an unflattering comparison but it’s not unfair when you consider former US President George W. Bush is somebody that is perceived as being as thick as two short planks and certainly none of us would dare describe him as a “visionary” – yet he too predicted a pandemic during his time in the Oval Office.
Why isn’t he shouting it from the rooftops to everybody to say, “Hail the (former) Chief now”? Perhaps it’s because he knows we don’t like the type of characters who say, “I told you so.”
Why do we instinctively turn to these billionaires for expertise that they obviously don’t even have in the first place? In fairness, Gates probably has a much better grasp of health issues than any recent US president because he actually rolled up his sleeves and led global health projects fighting against diseases.
But I still wouldn’t take a billionaire’s opinions on the coronavirus over that of a qualified medical doctor.
I’m sorry, but the skeptic in me is left with the impression that Gates’ love of being in the spotlight is nothing more than a self-serving public relations exercise. After all, as he once stated himself, “If I was down to the last dollar of my marketing budget I’d spend it on PR!”
Fellow philanthropist Michael Bloomberg attempted to use his obscene wealth and media empire as a stepping stone to the Oval Office earlier this year, and who’s to say that Gates – who is only 64 – hasn’t got similar power-hungry ambitions too?
He’d certainly have a much bigger war chest than any other candidate. He’s getting so much free publicity because the world’s mainstream media is desperately seeking heroes to put in the spotlight and Gates easily fits the narrative with his cultivated Mother Teresa-like public persona, which is light years removed from the narcissist he was painted as being when building his Microsoft empire in the cut-throat world of computer technology.
I’m not questioning that Gates’ heart is in the right place when it comes to his philanthropy, but I wonder if he’s also, consciously or subconsciously, seeking redemption for any past sins when he ruthlessly built a rapacious, monopolistic business that charged people exorbitant prices for its software?
Perhaps he feels a heavy sense of guilt from being one of the richest people on the planet? Regardless, it’s hard to listen to sermons from sanctimonious public figures preaching from their ivory towers.
Gates may want to present himself as being like Saint Teresa of Calcutta, but she lived amongst the poverty-stricken and lepers – while our hero here has only just splashed out $43 million on an oceanfront Del Mar home, according to recent news reports.
It certainly doesn’t feel like he’s practising what he preaches. You get the sense that billionaires like Gates want to act like gods and shape the world with their own agendas. The fact that they get to choose where to use their incredible influence and money is – no matter how you look at it – undemocratic.
It leads to the question, should philanthropy be regulated just like any other business model? It’s dangerous not to question motivations behind any donations, no matter how innocuous it all may appear at first glance.
It’s hard, for example, to say there was only altruistic motivation with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s decision to pump a staggering $80 million into the same school their own children attended. It’s a good example of how a conflict of interest can arise with such charitable donations.
What’s alarming here is the fact that there’s been very little, if any, public scrutiny about it all. Who’s to say there weren’t any hidden agendas at play here?
The Gates’ foundation made over $2 billion in tax-deductible donations during the past two decades to private companies – “including some of the largest in the world, such as GlaxoSmithKline, Unilever, IBM, and NBC Universal Media,” according to a recent investigation by the Nation.
“The result has been a new model of charity in which the most direct beneficiaries are sometimes not the world’s poor but the world’s wealthiest, in which the goal is not to help the needy but to help the rich help the needy,” wrote Tim Schwab in the piece in the Nation.
The Gates Foundation’s $50 billion charitable enterprise is to be welcomed, but perhaps it would be much better served if it was run by an independent board rather than on the whims of the world’s second richest man and his wife. But you could bet the farm on him refusing to hand over the keys to those particular gates.
Gates would be better off exiting the world stage and privately going about his philanthropy. Otherwise the question has to be asked: why the desperate desire to stay in the spotlight?
By Jason O’Toole, who has worked as a senior feature writer for the Irish Daily Mail, a columnist with the Irish Sunday Mirror and senior editor of Hot Press magazine. He is also the author of several best-selling books. @jasonotoolereal
First published by RT.com
The 21st Century
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of 21cir.