A Charitable Foundation for Entrepreneurs?

Time magazine recently named Bill Gates one of its three “Persons of the Year” (along with his wife, Melinda, and rock star Bono). Queen Melinda was certainly deserving of her share of the honor, as she long ago demonstrated her enormous ability to marry well. And Bono appears not only to have good intentions but also possesses a surprising amount of knowledge about world affairs. But the heavyweight in the crowd is, of course, Bill Gates himself. Though Gates’ reputation for ruthlessness has made him the Darth Vader of our age , he has now moved on to take his obligatory place in history as a great philanthropist. In doing so, he follows in the footsteps of such legendary softies as Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, and Joseph Kennedy. All this may bring your more cynical side to the surface, but it’s simply the way the world works.

Philanthropy is the next logical step for anyone who makes enough money to buy his own planet. To be sure, a $29 billion foundation dedicated to fighting, among other things, third-world disease and poverty is a noble cause – even if some might suspect that vanity is the driving force behind its creation. As all rational adults recognize, the end often justifies the means.

History, however, has made me a cynic for reasons having nothing to do with vanity. You can feed people, vaccinate them, and help them in myriad ways – but only until your money runs out. However, from a long-term point of view, it’s all in vain if you don’t address the underlying causes of disease and poverty. And the biggest cause by far is – and always has been – brutal, corrupt, dictatorial governments that suppress and terrorize their own citizens. In this respect, the United Nations is the ultimate enabler.

The UN not only does little or nothing to help those in distress, it actually makes matters worse by endorsing the very dictators who rule over them. That the United States continues to be a member of this shameful, corrupt, and farcical organization is bad enough. But to allow Kofi & Friends to hatch their crooked schemes on U.S. soil is beyond the realm of moral comprehension.

So long as third-world dictators and/or corrupt governments remain in control of their countries, people will be impoverished … and randomly tortured and murdered as well. Look what happened to Rhodesia – renamed ” Zimbabwe ” after its civilized government was overthrown – which was once one of the two most prosperous and civilized countries in Africa . (The second, of course, was South Africa , before its government caved in to the global frenzy over Nelson Mandela.) So, what can be done about the ruthless dictators who rule the world’s most downtrodden inhabitants? Unfortunately, short of nuking them (which would kill hundreds of millions of innocent people), not much. The U.S. certainly can’t put boots on the ground in every country where people are in distress and search every rat hole in an effort to find their dictators and bring them to justice. Which brings me back to Bill Gates. Even if every dime of Gates’ $29 billion foundation reached the needy in Africa , it wouldn’t do much good over the long term.

The reality is that $29 billion is a drop in the bucket when it comes to providing people with food, medical care, and education. And even Gates has limited resources. The only thing that will permanently solve the problem of widespread poverty and slavery is freedom – which, by definition, includes free markets. When market forces are unleashed and people are free to pursue their own well-being, everyone’s standard of living rises. In all honesty, I guess I’m neither vain enough nor smart enough to come up with solutions for third-world countries controlled by serial killers. But if Gates really wants to help impoverished people, perhaps he should just buy a third-world country of his choice from its corrupt rulers. Then, he could appoint himself as a benevolent dictator and allow people to pursue their own happiness in any way they chose. You’re right. That’s not going to happen. So, the next best thing is to make the civilized world even richer than it is and hope that some of the increased wealth will find its way to third-world countries – not just to feed and clothe people, but to promote economic growth. (Think, for example, of the way outsourcing and so-called sweatshops in such places as Indonesia and Pakistan have been a godsend to millions of previously desperate, unemployed people.)

How could Gates accomplish this? By doling out his foundation’s entire $29 billion in interest-free loans to Western entrepreneurs – particularly entrepreneurs who are down and out and have absolutely no collateral to back their loans. Entrepreneurs are those greedy guys who, for “selfish” reasons, constantly strive to create better products and services – and provide people with job opportunities in the process. Smart entrepreneurs clearly understand how the invisible hand of the marketplace works. They recognize that the most certain road to success is to give people what they want at prices they are willing to pay. That’s why so-called capitalism (a.k.a. business freedom ) is the ultimate win-win philosophy. Having said all that, I’m sorry to have to add – and this will probably come as a surprise to you – that there is no chance whatsoever that Gates is going to take my advice. Instead, he’ll dutifully listen to properly bred Melinda and throw good money after bad.

Perhaps I shouldn’t say it publicly, but, as I’ve told Bill so often, if he doesn’t start to heed my advice, I may have no choice but to resign as his financial advisor.

“Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.” – Martin Luther King Jr.