Conflicted Over Philanthropy

Going through all kinds of conflicting feelings about Gates’ philanthropy vs. his legacy as a business predator. MS hater David Pogue sums up the internal conflict many of us are feeling in his NY Times blog:

It’d be one thing if he were retiring to enjoy his fortune, or if he were using it to buy football teams or political candidates. But he’s not. He’s channeling those billions to the places in the world where that money can do the most good. And not just throwing money at the problems, either — he’s also dedicating the second act of his life to making sure it’s done right…

At pseudorandom, Frank Boosman puts the conflict many of us are going through eloquently:

I, too, have found it hard to reconcile the contradiction between Gates the businessperson (whom my friend Mike Backes was, I believe, the first to call “a wolf in nerd’s clothing”) and Gates the humanitarian. Given his company’s poor track record of innovation (quick, name something Microsoft invented), and its predatory behavior, it would be all too easy at this point to dismiss as posturing (or worse) anything Gates does. But what he’s doing can’t be dismissed. Everything I’ve read about his charitable efforts — every single thing — suggests that he’s doing great works, using his money to address big problems, and involving himself deeply in the process. It’s a profound transformation, and if he keeps it up, he will leave a staggering legacy.

Keep in mind that Boosman was a suit and brain trust at Be, Inc. — a company hit hard (some might say killed) by MS’ predations (cf: He Who Controls the Bootloader).

8 Replies to “Conflicted Over Philanthropy”

  1. I have no love for MS, but I don’t have any conflict over this topic… To be honest, I’m not sure if Gates’ is trying to paint his legacy, but perhaps being a cutthroat businessman and stealing out of the pockets of other companies shareholders, etc. and reassigning that money where it is needed is a good thing… We sure as hell aren’t funding these problems ourselves…

  2. I’m with Sean … I see no conflict. You don’t get to be the richest man in the world without being a cutthroat competitor (hopefully, without cutting any literal throats…). Once you’re rich, though, deploying that money the way Gates is doing is an admirable thing.

    Warren Buffett is doing the same thing — just heard he will be giving away almost his entire fortune.

    Contrast that to Oracle’s Larry Ellison, who just reneged on a $115 million donation to Harvard that was going to fund a center on world health issues. They’d already hired people based on his promise, and he hasn’t come through with the money, so they’ve had to lay those folks off. Now Ellison, there’s a cutthroat competitor *and* a heartless bastard.

  3. Calling Gates a “cut throat competitor” is far too mild. MS’ actions have been murderous to creativity, have squashed out any possibility of new companies attempting to develop operating systems, office suites, word processors or email clients commercially. Their actions have not been just questionable, they’ve been declared illegal many times over in courts all over the world. Microsoft’s behavior has been nothing short of criminal for many decades.

    It’s not right to think of it as a Robin Hood scenario, because they have not stolen just from the rich – they’ve stolen the vibrancy of the software industry by squashing small and medium sized competitors as well — often illegally.

    To see a man with a track record like that show so much heart for disadvantaged countries and individuals is hard for me to reconcile. I welcome it, but can’t understand it.

    The difference between Gates and Buffet is that Buffet does not emerge from a legacy as running one of the most evil corporations on the planet.

  4. Reading a story regarding the recent press conference, a comment about the persons on the stage struck me. Buffet was described as in “in his element”, sharing stories and his typical homespun wisdom. Bill Gates, was described as being wooden and somewhat uncomfortable. It was *Melinda* Gates, though, who was described as being eloquent about the possibilities that Warren’s donations would create.


    I’m not positing cause and effect, but there’s a strong corralation here. Bill’s gradual pull away from daily MS, and change into philanthropist – and his role as a parent (children born in 96, 99, 2002).

    Jenni and I talk about how, when Nathan was born, we started our new lives. Caring for and guiding a child – it’s a new and different life from the one we had before. I wonder if this “new” Bill Gates is result of something similar.

  5. If I put on my far-left alex cockburn hat, I’d say the problem is reinforcing the idea that social problems are to be solved by the accumulators of great wealth and not by government and/or society at large.

    But that hat is rather threadbare.

  6. Scot, you Mac guys get way too worked up over Bill Gates and Microsoft… “One of the most evil corporations in the world” — sheesh! How about Shell? Exxon? Thiokol? Nestle? Union Carbide? IBM??? These are corporations that have all directly or indirectly supported nuclear warfare, genocide, overthrow of democracies, murder, indifference to the deaths of people in the third world, totalitarianism, and the imminent destruction of life on Earth. And you call Microsoft evil? Get a grip, dude!

    What Microsoft has done is often despicable and in many cases illegal. It’s no model of creativity or originality. But in the end, those who suffer because of Microsoft suffer because their companies fail or their word processors suck, not because their families disappear in the middle of the night or their homes disappear under a 30 foot tidal surge.

  7. Thanks for putting things in perspective Dylan – you’re absolutely right.

    MS is still evil, but, no, they’re not doing genocide. My point lacked context.

  8. Gates is a scorpio. Realize that, and it’s easy to see how power-hungry predatory businessman can become power-hungry altruistic philanthropist. It’s an entirely different kind of power, but it is still based in ego.

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