William Henry “Bill” Gates is a rich man. His estimated wealth, some 65 billion measured in US dollars, equals the annual GDP of Ecuador, and maybe a bit more than that of Croatia. By this rather crude criterion, the founder of Microsoft is worth two Kenyas, three Trinidads and a dozen or so Montenegros. Not bad for a university dropout.
Gates is also mortal, although some of his admirers may find that hard to believe, and as they say, there are no pockets in shrouds. So he is now engaged in the process of ridding himself of all that money in the hope of extending the lives of others less fortunate than himself.
“I’m certainly well taken care of in terms of food and clothes,” he says, redundantly. “Money has no utility to me beyond a certain point. Its utility is entirely in building an organisation and getting the resources out to the poorest in the world.”
That “certain point” is set a little higher than for the rest of us – Gates owns a lakeside estate in Washington State worth about $150 million (£94 million) and boasting a swimming pool equipped with an underwater music system – but one gets the point. Being rich, even on the cosmic scale attained by Bill Gates, is no guarantee of an enduring place in history. The projection of the personal computer into daily life should do the trick for him, but even at the age of 57 he is a restless man and wants something more. The “more” is the eradication of a disease that has blighted untold numbers of lives: polio.
He emphasises that the foundation’s effort is part of a global campaign in which governments must play the lead role.
“The scale of the (foundation’s) wealth compared to government budgets is actually not that large, and compared to the scale of some of these problems. But I do feel lucky that substantial resources are going back to make the world a more habitable place.”
In 1990 some 12 million children under the age of five died. The figure today is about seven million, or 19,000 per day. According to the United Nations, the leading causes of death are pneumonia (18 per cent), pre-birth complications (14 per cent), diarrhoea (11 per cent), complications during birth (nine per cent) and malaria (seven per cent). For Gates, though, polio is a totem. The abolition of the disease will be a headline-grabber, spurring countries on to greater efforts. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will spend $1.8 billion in the next six years to accomplish that goal, almost a third of the global effort.
“All you need is over 90 per cent of children to have the vaccine drop three times and the disease stops spreading. The number of cases eventually goes to zero. When we started, we had over 400,000 children a year being paralysed and we are now down to under 1,000 cases a year. The great thing about finishing polio is that we’ll have resources to get going on malaria and measles.”
The children of Bill and Melinda Gates will never know poverty. They may not become multibillionaires but even the loss to charity of the vast bulk of their parents’ fortune should leave them with a billion or so each.
Gates explains: “The vast majority of the wealth, over 95 per cent, goes to the foundation, which will spend all that money within 20 years after neither of us are around any more.
Bill Gates is not the first tycoon to attempt to give away all, or really just most, of his money. In this he seems to be following the example of Andrew Carnegie, who said,
The day is not far distant when the man who dies leaving behind him millions of available wealth, which was free for him to administer during life, will pass away unwept, unhonored, and unsung, no matter to what uses he leave the dross which he cannot take with him. Of such as these the public verdict will then be: The man who dies thus rich dies disgraced. Such, in my opinion, is the true gospel concerning wealth, obedience to which is destined some day to solve the problem of the rich and the poor.
I hope that Gates is successful. I do hope that he is careful about how the money he gives away is being spent. It does no good if the money ends up in some dictator’s bank account. For this reason I hope that he does not let governments play a lead role in the effort to eradicate polio.
- I have no use for money, says Bill Gates (ndtv.com)
- ‘Money no use to me’ says Bill Gates (91live.in)
- Gates to fight polio in Africa (bigpondnews.com)