Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Enlightened Despotism in the 21st Century

"Everything for the people, nothing by the people."
---attributed to Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor

I have had enough of people defending the big heart of billionaire Bill Gates. There is nothing special about criticizing the Bush Administration's woefully insufficient and damaging stance toward the AIDS crisis, and there should be nothing special about a person worth fifty billion dollars giving half of it away.

While people are quick to commend him for his philanthropy, nowhere that I have seen -- and readers, correct me if I'm wrong -- has Mr. Gates lashed out at the root causes of much of what is wrong in the world: the incredible and shameful accumulation of wealth in a world of deprivation (that Gates himself, as the richest individual on the planet, typifies).

The Bush Administration's juvenille and patronizing "ABC" policy (abstinence, be faithful, use a condom) is not difficult to criticize. From his position as a well-known business leader, Gates is correct to insist that women be empowered with the tools to protect themselves, and that research be shared and non-proprietary.

But Gates knows, like no other, that business is business. Since the beginning of his career, Gates has been a powerful advocate of proprietary software. That's how he made his billions. Another business leader -- beholden, as they all are, to the rising stock portfolios of their shareholders -- might be making billions in proprietary pharmaceuticals or agriculture. Business interests are also defended -- at the expense of human lives and the destruction of the environment, always at such expense -- by the essentially violent policies of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund and the impossible demands they make on war-torn, disease stricken countries ravaged by resource extraction (read: theft) by the so-called developed world.

To put the lives of the people suffering the most in the hands of those suffering the least is to remake the model of the enlightened despot of an earlier age. Allowing anyone the power and influence that comes with the accumulation of wealth, and then hoping they will use it in generous and humane ways, is simply backwards and wrong. The emiseration of the Global South is not due to benign causes, whatever closet racists and apologists for predatory capitalism may suggest.

I would like to see Mr. Gates turn on himself, to point his finger not at intermediate causes of problems -- such as the horrendous but unsurprising stance of the anti-humanitarian Bush Administration on, well, anything -- but on root causes, such as the massive divide between rich and poor and the rich world's giving with one hand (when it so chooses) while always taking with two.

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Related: must-see documentary The Corporation.


Mickey Z. said...

Happy Birthday...

Rory Shock said...

well said