Once upon a time I thought that Steve Jobs was an IT saint, put down on Earth for a little while to enrich the lives of ordinary mortals, and Bill Gates, well, wasn’t. Recent years have tended to almost, though not quite, reverse those judgements, though you would still have to pry my iPad and MacPro from my cold dead hands, and I have never bought a computer that uses Windows.
Still, Bill, and Melinda, Gates, having gained wealth beyond the dreams of anyone except Rupert Murdoch, the Koch Brothers, and Australian mining magnates, have been heaven bent (unlike Murdoch, the Koch Brothers, and Australian mining magnates) on putting their riches to good use. And good for them.
And good for Bill, on the basis of what he has learnt in his post-capitalist life, getting stuck into capitalism, “ripping it a new one”, as I would say if I was one of them trendy bloggers.
He pointed out:
“The malaria vaccine in humanist terms is the biggest need, but it gets virtually no funding. If you are working on male baldness or other things you get an order of magnitude more research funding because of the voice in the marketplace than something like malaria.”
While this example relates to a particular interest of Bill Gates, it obviously applies more generally. That is, you can’t rely on “capitalism” to provide any kind of services to a community because it will always focus on the profitable bits and ignore the unprofitable ones. Poor people, and poor regions, will always miss out, an observation that in itself makes nonsense of the libertarian free market neoconservative think tank demands to privatise everything up to the air we breathe.
But Bill’s observations, while absolutely correct and damning, are at the same time just a tad ironic.
One of the demands of conservatives of course is that we get rid of all social services, public support mechanisms, because the super rich, getting ever richer under neoconservative governments, will let a little largesse trickle down from the high table to the poor. Just as, once upon a time, king and nobles might allow the poor to fight over food scraps from their table, or over a handful of pennies scattered on the ground, or allow, graciously, hems of robes to be touched in a free medical service.
The irony is that even a benevolent billionaire like Gates, offering not robe touching but malaria treatments to the poor, is still working to the capitalist model. Not “The Market” but Bill’s own interests and inclinations decide what he will support and fund. Absolutely fair enough, it’s his money that we (well, not me, but you see what I mean) gave him, and he can spend it as he pleases.
But what pleases him is no more serving the whole community in the most effective way than the drug companies who put their mouths where the money is. What we need you see, is a system where the people of a country would elect some of their number to represent their interests. And that number would investigate the needs of the country, its people, and set priorities accordingly. Then there could be a mechanism whereby each citizen, and corporation, according to their ability, contributed a proportion of their wealth to a fund which would be used to pay for those priorities.
If only we were smart enough to invent something we could call, oh, I don’t know, “democracy”. Then we could get things like Malaria funded properly, and not at the whim of capitalists and capitalism, and capitalism could pretend to deal with hair loss.