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Saturday, May 10, 2003  

Bill Gates' white hat

Jeanne d'arc of Body and Soul's approval of Bill Gates' eleemosynary activities has generated both heat and some props.

I am ambivalent about Gates. From what I was taught as a law student, Microsoft is definitely a monopoly. However, like Jeanne, I appreciate Gates' philanthropy. I particulary like that he does not sneer at the people he is contributing to, in essence blaming them for the problems they have. (In case you haven't noticed, even Right Wing philanthropists do that.)

The fellow (assuming he is not a transsexual, Barry) at One Man's Opinion ain't buyin' it. Via The Yellow Doggerel Democrat he says:

...Like the robber barons of yore, Gates' philanthropy is a gesture--a huge gesture, of course, given how much money is involved, but a gesture nonetheless. Gates refuses to even address, let alone challenge, the political conditions in which poverty, disease, and poor pre- and neo-natal care are rooted... Yes, Bill Gates' aid may help ease the suffering of thousands, even millions of impoverished people, but it does nothing to prevent or stem further suffering.

That is, of course, a typical argument from the far Left on the issue of charity. I only partly agree with it. Yes, in an ideal world, charity would not be necessary. However, hark! Listen. Look. Sniff. You may realize we don't live in an ideal world. In the world we live in, Bill Gates' billions, no matter how ill-gotten, are not going to be taken away from him. In fact, with the Bush administration having gutted antitrust law, he is going to make billions more. Since he is going to get the money regardlessly, I prefer to see him contribute it to charitable activities I favor. After all, he could be funding the Pioneer Institute (eugenics) or the Olin or Bradley Foundations. They are behind just about every Right Wing cause in the world. I prefer that he not fund them and I am glad he hasn't.

Yellow Dog Democrat Steve Bates has similar reservations about One Man's position.

The problem with OneMan's argument is that it can be applied to literally any American of at least middle-class standing who is in any way charitable: it is a difference of scale, not substance. When Carnegies or Rockefellers or Gateses institutionalize their charity, it becomes a very public matter, and they become much larger targets for any complaints about the handling of their charitable donations than most people. But anyone financially comfortable enough to engage in regular charity can be said to be wielding influence, and to be providing services that by rights should be available to everyone, built in to the fabric of a society, most likely through its government.

I will carry it a step further. If we wait for the government to do all the things we believe it should do, many people are going to suffer or perish while we wait. Some of them could be helped by both small and large charitable contributions now.

Lately, I've had to part ways with some fellow liberals, at least temporarily, because they were being so unrealistic. Some of them argued in favor of the state paying for transsexuals to get gender changing surgeries. The surgeries cost as much as $100,000 each and have not been proven to be particularly effective in altering the lives of transsexuals in American studies. I said the transsexuals should pay for their own operations, either out of pocket or, in the rare cases in which that would occur, by insurance. One Man's position strikes me as a similar example of lack of realism.

5:04 PM