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No Such Thing as a Free Gift: The Gates…
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No Such Thing as a Free Gift: The Gates Foundation and the Price of…

by Linsey McGoey

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Boys and their toys
One of the immutable rules of the universe is that nothing ever turns out the way it first seems. So with philanthropies, according to Linsey McGoey in No Such Thing As A Free Gift. The super-rich are out to benefit themselves and their companies, blaming government for failing to address issues, while criticizing them for spending on those issues (and not giving them and their firms enough breaks). McGoey uses the whipping boy of The Gates Foundation, which has its own agenda, and outspends governments and in some instances the UN. Its influence is enormous, but its strategy leaves the field cold. Bill Gates’ “obsession” with polio has meant poor attention given to more immediate needs, such as HIV. Some call this obsession the biggest obstacle to lower priced HIV treatment in the world: “The Gates Foundation just leaves chaos. Not only is it changing the ideology of public health – it is deinstitutionalizing public health.” The same feelings are expressed in education, where Gates has run rampant and unchecked.

The charges against Gates boil down to a spoiled brat spending to please himself. Programs and purchases are made to benefit Microsoft and Coca-Cola, which the foundation stands to inherit from board member Warren Buffet. Its grants are made to US firms, three times more often than to local ones, on the ground where the need is both better understood and immediate. Much like government aid that must be used to purchase US goods and be shipped by US transport, The Gates Foundation benefits Americans more than Africans or Asians.

McGoey says Gates actively follows the footsteps of Andrew Carnegie, the great philanthropist who famously had Pinkertons shoot his employees for striking. He cut their already miserable wages by two thirds, at a time when his company enjoyed a doubling of revenues, all so he could continue to perform his munificent philanthropy. He built libraries, in his own name, all over the country. Today, all kinds of new billionaires take up highly targeted pet causes, with little regard for overall impact, goals or co-ordination, in exchange for massive tax relief. This steals from government revenues while enriching favored suppliers, cronies and politicians. We call this efficiency, and the rich congratulate themselves over it at conferences like Davos. In their minds, they are performing far better than government could. On the ground, education and healthcare workers strive to undo the mess they create.

The book reaches out in many directions, following the money in long tangents. The focus on Gates is valid, but in many ways unfair. The whole sector operates this way. Philanthropy is no less corrupt than transnational corporations, politicians or the dictators they support, which is hardly comforting. It makes No Such Thing As A Free Gift both revealing and uncomfortable. If our charities are this misleading, what is left?

David Wineberg ( )
  DavidWineberg | Jul 19, 2015 |
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