Cracks in the Gates Foundation

Cracks in the Gates Foundation
Richard Hil

29 July 2016

The great sprawling metropolis of Seattle boasts the same characteristics as many other neoliberal centres: massive wealth and income divisions, lack of social housing, high levels of homelessness, inadequate social programmes and a low wage labour force. The rich live in inner city penthouses or in gated enclaves on the edge of the city. The poor and especially the homeless are just about everywhere. Many survive on nothing more than food stamps and handouts from charities. Some survive solely on the dimes and quarters they have begged from passers-by.

But there was no sign of the wretched of the earth near the lavishly appointed Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation visitors centre. In form and effect, it’s a shrine to one of the world’s richest men ($79 billion to be precise). Mr Gates and his partner, Melinda, have splashed out a whopping $41 billion on various aid donations, grants and so forth to organizations around the world. The aim of this mega project is apparently to try and eradicate world poverty, or certainly to make a dent in it. Given that there are 46 million or so poor people in the US alone, this is a mighty task indeed.

If you think that so-called relative deprivation means that the poor in the US are better off than many of those in developing countries, think again, because at least a third of the poor are experiencing deep poverty, which is code for hunger, malnutrition, chronic housing conditions, poor health and higher rates of mortality.

Mr Gates spends most of his donations in poor overseas nations. The visitors centre is full of portraits of grateful recipients in villages, towns and cities. The money, says the Foundation, is giving unrivalled new opportunities for a better life to millions of poor people around the world. But look as you might for any sort of acknowledgement off indigenous knowledge and autonomous localised efforts and you’ll be disappointed. No, Mr Gate’s project is based firmly on the proposition that it’s the guile and innovation of largely western countries that will fix the problems faced by the world’s poor.

Mr Gates believes that it’s only through the free market that poverty will be eradicated. He admits that the poor have missed out on wealth accumulation and that’s why you need corporate philanthropy. Predictably, there’s no mention anywhere in the visitor’s centre of growing global inequality, the role of corporations and particularly agribusiness in eradicating small holdings and localized initiatives. There’s no mention also of the role that governments might play in ensuring a progressive system of taxation and decent public services. And nor is there mention of the awkward fact that Mr Gate’s own fortune is partly a result of a grossly unfair and unjust taxation system. The question I put to the person behind the desk was “why should one person be allowed to accumulate such a vast fortune in the first place?” I didn’t get an answer.

I’m not surprised to hear that several organisations have called for an inquiry into the Gates Foundation.  In promoting neoliberal values, riding roughshod over indigenous knowledge, and privileging western bodies of scientific know-how over everything else, the Gates Foundation, as numerous commentators have suggested, poses a significant threat to humankind.