Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The moral threat and material benefits of Bill Gates - misdirected philanthropy

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In an open forum on ABC's Q&A last night Bill Gates offered some insights into the values of the man. He was discussing a number of issues surrounding his philanthropic investments in health and education, however I was more interested in his personal values. Ultimately what I want to see is 'just how smart is this guy'. He did not fail in the arena of business; but he does fail in the arena of ethical values. This is not to say that he does not convey a code of values; but rather than he has some misplaced values. His values are no worse than most business people; in fact they are rather commonplace, which I would attribute to the fact that such business people are so compartmentalised in their actions, that they don't reflect on the broader implication of their values, aside from satisfying themselves that 'they complied with the law'. This is bad for two reasons:
1. They are sanctioning the 'evil' taxation system and extortive political system
2. They are sabotaging the global economy with their moral relativism

You can listen to his values on the ABC Q&A website. They even offer excerpts of his contreibution by topic. i.e. You can see an excerpt on his attitudes to tax evasion. So what is wrong with his views? Well, I had the following issues:
1. He reiterated the advice of Warren Buffet - that the private sector should take on 'tough projects' which are too hard for the public sector. This of course stands in contradistinction to what most people view as the role of government, to take over the 'tough projects' that business will not fund. Though you might say that business will not fund projects which have a long development lead time....yeh, they are the tough projects...its not a construction problem like developing a dam or oil rig, which the private sector tends to do. So why is he not an advocate of small government? Well, we should learn its his conservatism.
2. He conveys a great lack of intellectual malfeasance. He says that 'the greatest injustice is a woman who has to bury her baby'. No, the greatest injustice is the sovereign nation which spurns the rights of its citizens, such that mothers need to bury their children. Destitution is not an environmental factor, its a political system and value failure. He does however support capitalism, but clearly he is not a consistent advocate, since he is completely morally 'repressed' when it comes to moral conviction. But what a minute.
3. The other gross failing of his presentation was that he argued that business are not moral agents. True, we can accept that corporations don't have to feel any moral justification to pay taxes; but its encumbent upon them to be moral agents. So this selective repression is not good. He contradicts himself too in two respects:
      (a) In Pakistan women are routinely raped. I don't think he would sanction his moral right to rape his wife in Pakistan merely because that is the local rule. The argument that he will accept any tax rate then is morally evasion. i.e. conservatism. We can expect that behind the scenes he would fight to oppose a global increase in taxation.
      (b) He was critical of a woman who wrote a book critical of his efforts in Africa. He even considered her 'evil'. This strikes me as a convenient departure from his previously expressed values.

The implication is that I got my answer to the motivations for Bill Gates actions. They are not entirely healthy. What can you expect of business people who are so focused on the 'material'. They consider their mindlessness purposeful and practical. But he we are, after 300 years of moral abdication by business leaders, still fighting socialism because 'socialism is good in theory, but does not work in practice'. We have Bill Gates ironically to blame for this false economy, as well as the cohort of business leaders who spurn the moral significance of a 'tax statute' for a beneficial tax loophole, and then argue that the government should just change the rules if its not happy with tax receipts. This is the moral abdication that leads to fascism.

To his credit, he recognises why business people don't give money to philanthropy. He argues that they have no sense of efficacy in the task. This is true and its a good thing. When business develop a sense of moral efficacy; that is the time for them to invest in philanthropy. Until they develop that skill base, we are better off with them investing 'concretely' and in a 'compartmentalised' fashion in commercial endeavours. They should continue to avoid tax as they do, since the government is a poor custodian of spending, and we should support their actions.

He properly repudiated a jaded child who argued that capitalism has caused greed. He correctly argued that capitalism is under-appreciated for its contribution to human prosperity, including reductions in poverty. Capitalism does not cause poverty; tyranny does. The greed of tyranny is a consequence not of capitalism, but arbitrary, subjective statism.

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