Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Giving is Good

Bill Gates gives an enormous amount of money to charity. You don't need me to tell you that though, it's pretty much guaranteed that you already knew. In fact, he has donated some $29 billion to good causes through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He's also the world's richest person worth an estimated $51 billion as of September last year but has apparently pledged to give it all away before he dies.

Gates is very public in his philanthropy:
"It's very important to us [Microsoft] that we're not just seen for our great financial results" he says.
There's no question that Microsoft's image has benefitted to some extent as a result of these activities. This has raised speculation in some quarters as to the motivation for his charitable donations. Others, including Gates himself, argue that no-one spends $29 billion ($26 bn at the time of the interview) on an advertising campaign, no matter how rich they are.

Gates, by all accounts, really isn't motivated by money. He has an obsession with competition and an obsession with keeping Microsoft at the top of the tree but the money that this brings is just a marginally distracting bonus for him.

So is the BMGF really the world's most expensive advertising campaign? And does it matter if it is? It can't be denied that such large sums of money are going to have a positive impact, whatever the motivations behind them. So does it matter? It's not a rhetorical question (well, it is if no-one volunteers an opinion). I'm not sure one way or the other.

There's lots more that could be said about this. Is it OK for a society to allow one person to accumulate so much wealth in the first place? It seems fundamentally "not right" to me somehow. On the other hand, some would argue that the BMGF is a clear demonstration of the reasons why an unregulated free market is the best thing since someone swapped a slice of mammoth for half a fish and a particularly shiny stone. It's an interesting question.

Leaving all that aside, there's one thing we should never forget. Microsoft make rubbish stuff (via). Change to Firefox or opera or something, all you IE users. And they act as censor on behalf of the Chinese government. OK, two thing Microsoft does. And they indulge in anti-competitive practices. Three things, three thing. I'll come in again...

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