How Bill Gates’ billions silences criticism of his development agenda

Rather than handing back power to people who have none, development is becoming a question of reining in those who already have too much

 

In a plutocracy, it’s no surprise that the world’s richest man is one of the most influential voices in the future of global agriculture and healthcare. What is surprising, is how little that influence is questioned. But if you’re Bill Gates, you can afford to put most potential opponents on the payroll too.

Bill Gates charitable foundation (the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation or BMGF) is the 12th biggest contributor to aid in the world, spending more than Canada, Belgium Denmark or Italy. No donor contributes more aid to healthcare, while only four countries give more aid to agriculture.

No wonder that Gates has a loud voice. Shouldn’t we celebrate his largesse, especially given rich country governments are failing to redistribute the world’s wealth in a more radical fashion?

Leaving aside whether it’s right for one person to have such wealth and power, the problem is that Gates’ solutions are not neutral. In fact as we’ve laid out in our new report Gated Development, they’re deeply political. They put big business interests right at the heart of ‘solving’ poverty in the world. As such, they actually risk exacerbating some of the world’s most pressing problems.

Take agriculture. Gates is a major fan of high technology solutions. His foundation is the biggest funder of research into genetic modification in the world. Initiatives that Gates funds push intensive farming methods involving plenty of chemicals and privatisation of seed distribution.

Time and again, these ‘solutions’ have proved disastrous for small farmers, allowing big players to effectively control the whole food system. They also ramp up global carbon emissions and fuel global warming.

But they are exactly what big business wants. In fact, Gates aid sometimes looks designed to help agribusiness develop new markets – like a project with agro-giant Cargill which helped it develop soya ‘value chains’ in Africa.

It’s not a conspiracy, it’s simply how Gates, like so many of his fellow plutocrats, believe the world works. Big business invents useful stuff and drive growth. Let’s help them and everyone will be better off.

In health, Gates schemes follow the same path, developing private ‘solutions’ which marginalise public sector healthcare. Gates works with Big Pharma, for instance supporting Glaxo Smith Klein to develop an ebola vaccine.

Of course, a new vaccine might be very useful, just as a new farming method might. But when those developments also help secure corporate control over the world’s resources, they are at the same time reinforcing the structures that create poverty and inequality in the first place. They sweep real solutions – challenging the power of corporations,and creating more democratic solutions – under the carpet.

Development is no longer about those with too little taking power over their lives. It is a question of reining in those who already have too much power.

So why so much silence, even acquiescence, from that part of society which ‘advocates’ for ‘the poor’, like international campaign groups? Well, many seem to have made their peace with Gates vision of the future – themselves seeing big business as essential ‘partners’ in improving the lives of the poor, fixating on technologies rather than questioning power.

Surely the funds of the Gates Foundation must help their conversion? Senior members of staff in large development charities regularly say (off the record) that their organisations have become unable to criticise the likes of Gates. Just take Save the Children UK, which has received $35m since 2010 – with Save the Children globally receiving more than that much again.

Meanwhile BOND, the umbrella group for development charities which should be the political mouthpiece for the sector, has received $4.7m since 2010. However well that money may be spent, it is difficult to imagine it has no influence on the willingness of such organisations to speak out and challenge the paradigm which Gates represents.

In other words, Gates has been a key part, as has Britain’s Conservative government, of redefining ‘development’ as ‘capitalism’. He also seems to have converted many of those who should otherwise criticise him.

The ultimate power of the super-wealthy in our world derives not simply from making something happen – from supporting this initiative rather than that one – but in changing our very language and the way people see the world. The real power of the world’s richest man lies in his ability to coopt and marginalise any accountability.

Play the video game “Save us Bill Gates!”

Read the report Gated Development – is the Gates Foundation always a force for good?

Nick Dearden is the director of Global Justice Now, where this article first appeared.

16 Responses to “How Bill Gates’ billions silences criticism of his development agenda”

  1. Chester Draws

    The West got rich the day we left peasant farming behind. So did Taiwan, Korea, Japan etc.

    But you want Africa to ensure they never get rich because Leftists love the idea of peaceful peasants on the land ( not the reality of course, because the reality is peasants would rather work 60 hour weeks in factories than grind themselves to an early death in the fields).

    Had it occurred to you that Gates might be right? That feeding Africa properly from its own resources might be the best way out of their poverty trap!

    This idealisation of peasant farming is ridiculous, fed on Western notions of pastoral idyll, without the back-breaking work.

    Also, have you seen what happens when you try to criticise any charity? Those trying to show what was happening at Kids Company for example were shouted down for a long time. Save the Children go ballistic when they get criticism. They should think about how much money they waste on “overheads” and political campaigns before they say other charities should not be above criticism (What they mean, of course, is that right-wing charities should be questioned for motives, not themselves.)

  2. Bradley B.

    You can call him a plutocrat. I prefer oligarch.

  3. madasafish

    ill Gates charitable foundation (the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation or BMGF) is the 12th biggest contributor to aid in the world, spending more than Canada, Belgium Denmark or Italy. No donor contributes more aid to healthcare, while only four countries give more aid to agriculture.

    So any criticism has to be measured and sensible.

    As far as I can read, it’s a rant about GM.

    After all, modern agriculture requires hitec machinery with automation and machines like ploughs run using GPS..

    Filed under “another bunch of nutters to ignore”

  4. Dave Stewart

    You’re right it would be best for Africa to feed itself from it’s own resources (which it could already do if such vast amounts of food weren’t exported). However the solutions Gates et al are peddling do exactly the opposite. They get non-African companies to come in buy up or be given land (usually take from African farmers) and then they use imported technology (GM etc) and feedstocks (fertilizers, industrial scale machinery) to work the land. This cuts out local Africans from the whole process except as lowly workers.

    There is a growing realisation that our heavily chemical reliant agriculture is becoming less and less sustainable. We need to use much less fossil fuels and fossil fuel derived fertilizers and pesticides (due to global warming) not to mention the damage that these pesticides are doing to the biosphere.

    Certainly the green revolution was incredibly important and meant huge numbers of people suddenly had food security for the first time in history however we need to learn from out mistakes and avoid foisting on Africa a food system that has many problems with it. We should be helping Africans develop their own food systems which they themselves control which both improves yield, nutrition and helps the farmers alleviate their own poverty. This demonstrably is not what Gates and co and doing. Sure they help improve the supply of food but the bulk of benefits are lost to Africa and the evidence is stacking up that such as system is not sustainable.

  5. Cole

    Of course Gates makes mistakes. But to dismiss an incredibly generous philanthropist in such a way is little short of disgusting.

  6. Cole

    Quite. It’s just a lot of sour Trot rubbish.

  7. Chasityrupchurch1

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  8. Chasityrupchurch1

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  9. Chasityrupchurch1

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  10. Chasityrupchurch1

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  11. Chasityrupchurch1

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  12. Chasityrupchurch1

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  13. Chasityrupchurch1

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  14. Chasityrupchurch1

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  15. Chasityrupchurch1

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  16. Chasityrupchurch1

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