Bill Gates, philanthropy and social engineering
Posted on Sat, 15/01/2011 - 18:25
Variant, issue 35, July 2009
Like many of the world's richest businessmen , Bill Gates believes in a special form of democracy, otherwise known as plutocracy; that is, socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor. Following in the footsteps of John D. Rockefeller's and Andrew Carnegie's charitable foundations, Gates, like most capitalists, relies upon the government to protect his business interests from competition, but is less keen on the idea of a government that acts to redistribute wealth to the wider populous.
For powerful capitalists such as Gates, the State is merely a tool to be harnessed for profit maximization, and they themselves, having acquired their wealth by exploiting and manipulating the economic system, then take it upon their own shoulders to help relieve global inequality and escalating poverty. As one might expect, their definitions of the appropriate solutions to inequality neglect to seriously challenge the primary driver of global poverty, capitalism. For the most part, the incompatibility of democracy and capitalism remains anathema. Instead, those capitalist philanthropists fund all manner of ‘solutions’ that help provide a much needed safety valve for rising resistance and dissent, while still enabling business-as-usual, albeit with a band-aid stuck over some of the more glaring inequities.
With huge, government-aided financial empires resting in the hands of a small power elite, the ability of the richest individual philanthropists to shape global society is increasing all the time, while the power of society to influence governments is being continuously undermined by many of these powerful philanthropists. This situation is problematic on a number of levels. Democratic governments rely on taxes to stabilise existing structures of governance. Yet, profiting from specifically designed legislation, billionaire capitalists are able to create massive tax-free endowments to satisfy their own particular interests. This process in effect means that vast amounts of money are regularly ‘stolen’ from the democratic citizenry, whereupon they are redistributed by unaccountable elites, who then cynically use this display of generosity to win over more supporters to the free-market principles that they themselves do their utmost to protect themselves from. Bill Gates’ Microsoft Corporation and its associated liberal foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (the largest of its kind in the world), is only one of the more visible displays of capitalism’s hypocrisy.
I – Capitalists cum philanthropists: The roots of Gates’ philanthropy
At this present historical juncture, neoclassical free-market economic doctrines are the favored means of promoting capitalism by business and political elites. In many respects, this neoliberal dogma has been adopted by a sizable proportion of the citizenry of the world's most powerful countries, arguably against the citizenry's own best interests. This widespread internalisation, but not necessarily acceptance, by the broader populous of the economic theories that consolidate capitalist hegemony over the global market did not happen naturally, but actually required a massive ongoing propaganda campaign to embed itself in the minds of the masses. The contours of this propaganda offensive have been well described by Alex Carey who fittingly observed that: “The twentieth century has been characterised by three developments of great political importance: the growth of democracy, the growth of corporate power, and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy.” 
There are many reasons why corporate giants engage in liberal philanthropic endeavors: one is to have a direct influence on political decisions through what has been termed political philanthropy , but another important reason is that such charitable efforts help cultivate a positive image in the public’s mind that serves to deflect criticism while also helping expand their market share. However, although liberal foundations like the Gates Foundation may engage in ostensibly ‘progressive’ activities, this does not mean that the capitalist enterprises from which their endowments arise (e.g. Microsoft) refrain from engaging in common antidemocratic business practices. So while the Gates Foundation directs some of its resources to progressive grassroots initiatives, its corporate benefactor actually works to create fake grassroots organisations (otherwise known as astroturf groups) to actively lobby through covert means to protect corporate power.
For instance, in 1999 Microsoft helped found a group called Americans for Technology Leadership – a group which describes its role as being “dedicated to limiting government regulation of technology and fostering competitive market solutions to public policy issues affecting the technology industry.”  In 2001, Joseph Menn and Edmund Sanders alleged that Americans for Technology Leadership orchestrated a “nationwide campaign to create the impression of a surging grass-roots movement”  to help defend Microsoft from monopoly charges. The founder of this front group, Jonathan Zuck, also created another libertarian group in 1998 called the Association for Competitive Technology, a group which was part-sponsored by Microsoft to fight against the anti-trust actions being pursued against Microsoft in the United States. Such antidemocratic campaigns waged via front groups and astroturf organisations, however, were just one part of Microsoft's democracy-manipulation. This is because, as Greg Miller and Leslie Helm demonstrated (in 1998), this was just one part of a programmme that Microsoft and PR giant Edelman had been planning as part of a “massive media campaign designed to influence state investigators by creating the appearance of a groundswell of public support for the company.”  None of this should be surprising as, in 1995, it was also revealed how Microsoft were using “consultants to generate computer analyses of reporters’ articles, enlist industry sources to critique writers they know and – less frequently – provide investigative peeks into journalists private lives.”  In the rare spate of critical articles surfacing in the late 1990s, it was also shown that Microsoft had made a $380,000 contribution to the conservative corporate-funded astroturf group Citizens for a Sound Economy (now known as FreedomWorks).  Unfortunately, these examples only represent the tip of the iceberg of Microsoft's democracy-manipulating activities.
II – The Gates Foundation: Microsoft's 'charity'
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has its roots in two of Gates’ earlier philanthropic projects: the William H. Gates Foundation and the Gates Library Foundation. Understanding the complete backgrounds of the Gates foundations is critical to comprehending the political nature of their work.
Formed in 1994 by Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda Gates, the William H. Gates Foundation was managed by Bill Gates’ father, William H. Gates Sr.  Presently acting as the co-chairman of the Gates Foundation, Gates Sr. has had a successful career establishing one of Seattle’s leading law firms, Preston Gates and Ellis, which became K&L Gates in 2007. Its work is closely tied to Bill Gates’ corporate/philanthropic network. Gates Sr. is also a director of the food giant Costco, where he sits on their board of directors alongside Charles Munger, the former vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. In 2003, Gates Sr. co-founded the Initiative for Global Development, which is a national network of business leaders that ostensibly champion “effective solutions to global poverty.” The dubious level of commitment this group has to truly solving global poverty can perhaps be best ascertained by the fact that the two co-chairs of the Initiative’s leadership council are the two former Secretaries of State, Madeleine Albright and Colin Powell. Albright, Powell and Gates Sr. also serve as honorary chairs of another misnamed ‘democracy’-promoting project called the World Justice Project, which happens to obtain financial backing from two key weapons manufacturers, Boeing and General Electric. This project also receives support from Microsoft and the Gates Foundation, amongst others.
In 1995, Gates Sr. invited the longstanding birth control activist Suzanne Cluett to help him distribute his foundation’s resources. She then remained with the Gates’ philanthropies as associate director of global health strategies until her death in 2006. Prior to joining the Gates’ philanthropies, Cluett had obtained much experience in population control-related programming as she had spent 16 years as administrative vice president for the Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH). The Gates Foundation’s focus here places it in a direct line with that of the Ford and Rockefeller foundations, which have a long history of promoting population control research around the world in line with US imperial interests.
Describing itself as an “international, nonprofit organization that creates sustainable, culturally relevant solutions, enabling communities worldwide to break longstanding cycles of poor health,” PATH had, in 2006, a total income of just over $130 million, of which 65% was derived from foundations, most of which it obtained from its major funding partner, the Gates Foundation. In 1995, PATH’s president, Gordon Perkin, was first approached by Gates Sr. for his advice on family planning issues. This relationship then blossomed over the years and eventually, in late 1999, Perkin stepped down as PATH’s president and became the head of the Gates Foundation’s new Global Health Program. This was not the first time that Perkin had directly worked on population control issues for liberal foundations. In 1964, he joined, as an associate medical director, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, a group that was well supported by Ford and Rockefeller monies. Two years later, he moved to the Ford Foundation to work on population issues in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Mexico and Brazil, where he stayed until he created PATH in 1977.
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