Bill and Melinda Gates and the problem of the good billionaire • Good Non profit


Bill and Melinda Gates are strange billionaires.

The doors, which published the annual letter of their foundation this week are not ostensibly quirky aesthetes like Steven Schwarzman, the private equity billionaire who gave Yale $ 150 million for a performing arts center; They are not tycoons trying to use their money to tip elections like Charles and David Koch or Tom Steyer.

They are also not self-hating plutocrats as Nick Hanauer who openly decry their position in society and constantly demand fair economic policies. And they are certainly not part of the dozens of scarcely known billionaires who fill the Forbes 400 list of the richest people in America (In short, tell me all your thoughts about Thomas Peterffy?)

But I think in some ways, the Gateses (and to a certain extent, Cari Thon and Dustin Moskovitz also the most difficult questions about the role of billionaires and philanthropy in our society. That is, the Gates Foundation has the kind of money and power that there are very, very good reasons for not wanting a foundation controlled by an individual (or, in this case, three people – Bill, Melinda and Warren Buffett).

It is capable of spending large sums of money to influence the lives of people all over the world with a minimum of responsibility, without the discipline that consumers and competitors impose on businesses and voters compel governments.

When I look at figures like Steyer or Schwarzman or the Koch or Howard Schultz By exercising the power derived from their wealth, my reaction is easy: you do this wrong. You do not take responsibility for that kind of money and power. The money you spend would probably be better spent in public coffers.

On the other hand, I think that the Gates Foundation used this money and this power the most. And I'm not sure how to design a system that preserves the truly valuable work that they do while dramatically reducing the role of billionaires in general, although I think this last change is important and necessary.

I will not defend everything the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has done. I am publicly stated that his choice to work in the US kindergarten to the 12th was a mistake – and this is also one of the areas in which the work of the Gateses has the most troubling implications for democracy, given that their money has given them a somewhat shocking power over the entire discourse on the reform of the education.

But if you look at the bread and butter of Gates' work on global health – fight malaria, fund the development and deployment of vaccines, fight HIV / AIDS – it is difficult to prevent the group from saving a considerable number of lives.

To give just one example, the Gateses provided $ 750 million in seed funding to establish Gavia non-profit organization specializing in the supply of vaccines in poor countries; In total, the Gates gave the group some $ 4 billion.

A report from the World Health Organization estimated that between 2000 and 2013, Gavi provided 440 million vaccinations and averted 6 million deaths.

This is not just the case of Gateses – but it is fair to say that they played a major role. And this is just one example of how the foundation has saved lives.

A common answer to this argument is to say that the work of the Gates Foundation should rather be done by governments, through. And I deeply agree with that as a normative principle.

How do you solve a problem like that of billionaires?

But suppose for a moment that you confiscated the fortune of the Gates family and handed it over to the US Treasury. What are the chances of Congress allocating funds to administer vaccines to the poor abroad? What are the odds that they use the money to pay more for missiles or simply reduce the deficit slightly without any other real effect?

If the decline in Gateses' fortune were coupled with an increase in US government spending on public health abroad, I would be 100% on board. Take their money, give it to poor countries for them to build universal health care systems. I'm just not sure it's the relevant counterfactual.

Needless to say, Bill Gates recently personally supposes that he is paying a lot more taxes to fund more public goods through the government. He told my Colleague Verge Nilay Patel"We can be more progressive, the inheritance tax and the capital tax, the operation of FICA taxes and social security. We can be more progressive without really threatening income generation. "He added to Stephen Colbert's show wants higher capital gains rates.

Bill also said Randall Lane of Forbes"I think it's fascinating that, for the first time in my life, people are saying," Well, do we have billionaires? "" Should a tax on wealth be collected? "I think the discussion is good." too defensive about some critics in this discussion – he absurdly involved this writer Anand Giridharadas is a "communist" who supports great systemic changes in the economy and philanthropy – but it is hardly Schwarzman, who compared the increase in tax rates on capital at the invasion of Poland by the Nazis.

And none of the political plans aimed at fighting the inequality of wealth put forward by the leftist democrats would really threaten Mr. Gates' ability to give large sums to real causes.

The tax bracket greater than 70% of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is perfectly compatible with large charitable donations, especially if we use a charitable deduction.

Elizabeth Warren's Wealth Tax Each year, 3% of the wealth would exceed $ 1 billion, which is not a big loss of Gates' fortune, especially since it can save money and earn higher interest.

The inheritance tax of 77% of Bernie Sanders would probably entice more give to charities as long as there remains a deduction.

But it is clear that some leftist critics of billionaires tend not to reduce the inequality of wealth while keeping the charitable work of Gates harmless. it's a more fundamental moral argument that no one should have this money to give. This could justify much higher taxes on ultrarichs, but also a broader cultural understanding, in which a person such as Gates is not admired for what she does, but is admonished.

It's the change in culture and politics that I'm less sure of. This would likely lead to good results for the 90% and over billionaires. This could work well in the case of Gateses if it were accompanied by a condemnation of using the US government to address global inequality, not just intra-US inequality. But in the absence of such a change, the wealth of a small number of seriously philanthropic billionaires could do more good between the private and the public.

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