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Gates Makes Largest Donation Since 2000 with $4.6B Pledge (bloomberg.com)
447 points by adventured on Aug 15, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 285 comments

Although there are many cynics, it's quite remarkable the impact on the world donations can have. Here's what their foundation has actually been doing with the money: https://www.gatesfoundation.org/Who-We-Are/Resources-and-Med...

I wouldn't be surprised if private donations will eventually be responsible for the eradication of Malaria (1000 deaths daily, much more suffering and cost to society).

If you're in tech you're likely to be in a great position to create value beyond your company. For example, donating equity from your startup or a fraction of your income to the charities that can prove they are having the most cost effective impact on the world: https://founderspledge.com/ https://www.givingwhatwecan.org/pledge/

As much as like the new way of distributing wealth in this manner, some of the foundations Christians fundamentals worry me. For example - https://www.gatesfoundation.org/how-we-work/quick-links/gran...

I tried looking for similar grants to religious services organizations from other religions, but my search came up empty. Very happy to stand corrected on this.

This is a silly complaint -- Some of the 'religious' grant money goes to Catholic Relief Services who happen to be one of the largest charity groups operating in Africa. Most of these funds go to Agriculture / emergency relief.

They've also given over $150 million to the Islamic Development Bank to support their vaccine efforts and smaller amounts to dozens of other Muslim-based groups for different initiatives. Likewise for Jewish organizations.

B&MG Foundation are incredibly results driven, all of their grants come with direction for measuring impact and reporting on it. They aren't giving to religious organizations to further religion, but because those organizations are best suited to reach the most people or best suited to responsibly steward enormous amounts of money and resources.

Just because it is called Islamic development bank does not make it a religious organization. Point here is - look at the profiles of some of the organizations. Some of them based on fundamentals I am not sure I feel comfortable about. Also about catholic church in Africa, see Rwanda case https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_Rwanda#1994_Genoci...

Just cross-referencing jk2323 here who makes an interesting point in this regard [0]

  *He should improve contraception instead*
You're pointing out that a lot of these organisations are based on a Catholic ethos. Given the church's outspoken position on contraception, could the pointed nature of these donations actually be doing some harm?

Given 1000 donors donating a million vs 1 donor with a billion (as somebody else points out below) you could imagine such biases being averaged out ...

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15024948

When donors with different biases donate to causes with different political implications, they don't always average out. Sometimes they cancel out.

For example political campaign donations are obviously zero-sum, as is lobbying for mutually exclusive well-intentioned causes.

You're presuming a zero-sum balance between all causes political and/or charitable. I'd need to see this thesis more thoroughly fleshed out before I could comment further, but I think on the face of it it's grossly a flawed assumption. Maybe that's not what you mean though.

Only political causes. And only most of them.

For example suppose that we want to do a cost-benefit analysis to see if convincing people to use contraception is a more effective charitable intervention than whatever Gates is doing.

If the Catholic Church really hates contraception, they would oppose that. They might tell Catholic charities to refuse to work with Gates. They might spend a little money and a lot of cheap labor on convincing people to not use contraception. Generally they will spend resources on doing the opposite thing and Gates would have to spend more resources just to cancel out the Catholic influence.

Since we know beforehand that this is very likely to happen, we should include that in the cost part of our cost-benefit analysis. It's possible Gates did just that and concluded that working with Catholics instead of against them is better.

All sounds very far fetched.

I think Buffett and Gates proved that despite what the media or anti-capitalists say, the top 1% are able to have the biggest impact. Somebody who donates a million (while a great contribution), will never have the impact that a billionaire can.

Buffett took tremendous flack and there was very public outcry before he started donating. His rationale was that I'll just stack it up, and his late ex-wife Susie would distribute it after he died. However, when Susie passed away unexpectedly, Warren decided to make the move.

No one said that the top 1% don't have the biggest impact.

Currently, our geo-economic systems are structured such that the world's underclasses rely on the emotions of the wealthiest 0.0001% of homo sapiens in America to continually fund triage operations to ameliorate problems that societies have developed institutionalized solutions to.

> despite what the media or anti-capitalists say, the top 1% are able to have the biggest impact

I think this argument misses, or even reinforces a core criticism about the concentration of wealth. The criticism is that so much and such disproportionate power should not be concentrated in the hands of one individual.

It's fundamentally undemocratic and a danger to society. In a democracy a broad-based group of citizens should be deciding where charitable resources are allocated. It's in aristocracies were a few wealthy control all the assets and make the decisions. Democracies were formed as a rejection of aristocracy, the U.S. in particular.

It's self-reinforcing: If the local 'aristocrat' funds a park, people are grateful because there were no other funds and now we have a park. But there are no other funds because we have a system that creates aristocrats and by concentrating wealth also creates the need for their charity, and instead of the citizens deciding democratically about their parks, the aristocrat decides.

Gates might be an enlightened despot but he's still a despot (in an exaggerated, metaphorical sense). We know what happens to nations and political systems that fall in love with enlightened despots.

> Somebody who donates a million (while a great contribution), will never have the impact that a billionaire can.

1,000 people who donate a million will have exactly the same impact as one who donates a billion and will be far more democratic. Far better: Each person makes an equal sacrifice (via a progressive taxation system) and we vote on how to spend the money.

> 1,000 people who donate a million will have exactly the same impact as one who donates a billion and will be far more democratic.

Except if they don't. Or they do to a variety of causes, each with duplicate administrative overhead.

I'm not a fan of wealth concentration, but it does afford patronage opportunities that simply aren't taken on average in the alternative "more people with less money" world.

> Except if they don't. ...

Except when the billionaire doesn't. Is there evidence that billionaires donate a greater proportion of their wealth or more effectively than millionaires? Is a market of 1 more efficient than a market of 1,000?

I'd bet that the law of large numbers applies here, and the 1,000 people are overall more consistent than 1 person, and less prone to extreme swings.

It sounds like the trickle-down economics version of philanthropy.

We have exactly what your explaining in the form of taxes, and the outcomes are terrible. We spend $1B on a healthcare website, that other companies have duplicated for a mere decimal point of the price. Not only that, but it actually turned out worse, cause now it's mandatory to have Healthcare, and for those who can't afford the "affordable health care plan", now have an additional payments in "penalties" for not being able to afford it and they STILL don't have health insurance. This is just one point of a thousand were socialistic practices are completely contrary to the original point. Let the people who create enough value to the world decide where they want to spend their money.

The core problem is that society has to rely on the whims of these people to solve problems.

In an alternative universe we tax people more and ensure malaria eradication _whether or not Bill Gates personally decides to do so_.

There are obviously coordination problems (not saying that "government can solve everything!", there are difficulties there too). But having huge organizations ask for donations from people is a really ineffective way of solving most societal problems.

Your alternative cannot exist simply because the problem that exist isn't the billionaire but politicians and the governments they run. Gates and his type are able to have the effect they do because being individuals they don't run into problems of the state, there is no threat of imperialism or such. They are also able to do because they live under a government which respects private property rights, whether to self, land, money, or goods.

Government theoretically could solve everything but it requires good government to do so. The first step is what I stated above, respect for private property rights. If people cannot be assured their product of their work is theirs to use you cannot improve the society they live in. They must be able to trust their government.

Resource allocation is at the base of all our problems. And capitalism has been the best solution so far.

extremely debatable. In the US, almost no national infrastructure was built through private means (though often privatised later). Private healthcare has been a disaster at maintaining a healthy public. An insistence on having government work happen through public contractors has generated massive conflicts of interests and made us end up with the most expensive infrastructure building process in the world.

Just because the Soviet Union fell over doesn't mean that capitalism has somehow been proven to be "the best solution".

I don't know a good label for the US healthcare system, but it's so heavily regulated it's impossible to call it "private".

>Just because the Soviet Union fell over doesn't mean that capitalism has somehow been proven to be "the best solution".

Name one country implemented socialism (and by that I mean the government owns the means of production) and didn't end up worse off than when it started. Even the Northern European welfare states are capitalist.


Not even close. 40 million people starved to death under the communists.

You asked to name a country that ended up worse. Since we are not at the end of history, the only consistent way to interpret "ended up" is "in its state as of the time of this statement."

edit: My above interpretation isn't quite right. It should be "its state as of the latest known point in time the predicate was true."

But China abandoned socialism in the '70s. It's only been since then the country started to turn it around.

It's at least been the best solution to creating value from resources.

For many it helps to know that your dollars are going to have a modest impact on society. Effective Altruism attempts to identify areas that are more likely to do so:


"I wouldn't be surprised if private donations will eventually be responsible for the eradication of Malaria (1000 deaths daily, much more suffering and cost to society)."

He should improve contraception instead. Would be better for the Africans AND Europeans.

> He should improve contraception instead.

Yeah. Perhaps he should imitate this charitable foundation run by a billionaire tech guy that's doing exactly that: https://www.gatesfoundation.org/What-We-Do/Global-Developmen...

He really shouldn't do anything. Given it's his wealth, if he wants to focus on Malaria, then he should focus on Malaria.

Be happy he's trying to do something at all. That's more than what most wealthy families do.

What do you mean?

They might be suggesting that fewer people competing for resources in Africa could mean fewer people fleeing to Europe and agitating some there who resent the arrivals.

And they would be wrong. Focusing on governance will be more beneficial. Africa has enough resources.

Malaria will be eradicated by CRISPR if anything. It's almost a waste to try and fully eliminate it any other way.

There is a relatively easy and proven way to eliminate Malaria already:

Malaria was effectively eradicated in all but the poorest areas in the 1950s and 60s through vector management: indoor residual spraying, building better houses, eradicating still water near population centers.

The same can be done in sub-Saharan Africa (the main place it remains). In fact, in the richer areas of these countries, Malaria has a very low prevalence.

It's a disease of poverty. Drugs help, but it's mostly about the vector.

Yet many want to 'solve' the problem of the 0.1% being so wealthy and as a result let the government do most of the charity work instead. I think this would be a huge mistake. The mega wealthy donate a larger percent of their income than any other income group (which makes complete sense). We would be losing a ton of donation money.

Yes this is a tangent. But I think its an important point to make. On top of that, even if it were true that most of the 0.1% are very wasteful spenders, there are some who's donations are irreplaceable with government charity. Irradiating the worlds malaria is an example of this. Getting rid of the wealth in the 0.1% would be a huge loss for important donations.

There's a difference between someone who went from upper middle class to billionaire, like Gates, and someone who inherited most of their wealth, like other people. I don't think lumping them together into a monolithic N% is productive for purposes of discussing policy.

Bill Gates was not upper "middle class", his household was solidly in the 1%, he had computer programming access at his private school (this is 1968), and his mother's friendship with the president of IBM at the time was the reason he got contracted to write DOS.


> Bill Gates was not upper "middle class", his household was in the 1%

Seems to have been a successful petit bourgeoisie, or upper middle class, family. In traditional understanding of class relationships in capitalist society, the middle class isn't mostly middle income but well above; the majority of society is the working class dependent on wage-labor. The upper (capitalist or haut borgeoisie) class is a very thin layer.

The modern American media generally uses a different model which where “class” would more accurately be called “income group”, rather than focussing on relation to the economic system; this gets confusing in conversation when people could be using either model. In that model, Gates family was clearly upper class.

That archaic nobility distinction is useless to the conversation, especially when the most powerful men in the world we're discussing about have the background I'm talking about.


> That archaic nobility distinction is useless to the conversation,

It's not a mobility distinction,it's the classical distinction of classes in the capitalist economy (the bourgeoisie is a class in the preceding feudal economy, but there the whole bourgeoisie is the middle class, and the upper class is the nobility, not the haut bourgeoisie.)

Sorry to nit-pick, but I didn't know the exact definition of 'petit bourgeoisie' and Google says it's actually lower middle class:


It most certainly isn't. The Wikipedia article has an accurate description. Google pulls a wrong definition for some reason.

The petite bourgeoisie is economically distinct from the proletariat and the lumpenproletariat social-class strata who rely entirely on the sale of their labor-power for survival; and also are distinct from the capitalist class haute bourgeoisie (high bourgeoisie) who own the means of production, and thus can buy the labor-power of the proletariat and lumpenproletariat to work the means of production. Though the petite bourgeoisie can buy the labor of others, they typically work alongside their employees, unlike the haute bourgeoisie.

I think "lower middle-class" is a reasonable apropos of this. That said, I don't think the Gateses would fit this definition either ...

The three basic classes are the working class which survived on wage labor, the petit borgeoisie that both rent labor and work as essential means of support, and he capitalists whose support is dominantly derived by renting labor to apply to capital.

The petit bourgeoisie is the middle class of the three. (The lower and upper middle class are both part of it.)

Bill Gates (the Microsoft one) parents appear to have derived wealth largely from his father's successful law practice, dependent on his own labor essentially alongside other rented labor, which would them petit borgeoisie, middle class. They were certainly at the quite high end of prosperity for that class, so upper middle class. (It's not impossible that they at some point crossed into the haut bourgeoisie, but the descriptions I've seen suggest mostly very successful petit borgeoisie.)

Bill Gates himself rapidly moved into the haut bourgeoisie with Microsoft's success.

Okay ... this is another one of those slippery terms. As a onetime student of European history I got hung up on the etymology [0]

Historically, the medieval French word bourgeois denoted the inhabitants of the bourgs (walled market-towns), the craftsmen, artisans, merchants, and others, who constituted "the bourgeoisie", they were the socio-economic class between the peasants and the landlords, between the workers and the owners of the means of production

I was incorrectly equating "upper class" with these "landlords", but I guess as of the French revolution, with the Aristocracy overthrown the semantics shifted and "haute bourgeois" became the term for the ruling class.

Contemporarily, the terms "bourgeoisie" and "bourgeois" (noun) identify the ruling class in capitalist societies, as a social stratum

I would contend that the modern phenomenon of "the 1%" more closely resembles the aristocracy of old than Haute Bourgeois but I would be at odds with accepted terminology.

So yeah Bill Gates is from a Bourgeois background (particular grade is unclear) but arguably now occupies a distant Aristocratic stratum beyond Haute Bourgeois.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bourgeoisie#Etymology

Aren't those categories unactionable? I mean, a lady owns a beauty shop, spends 10 hours a day ordering supplies, doing payroll, managing advertising, hiring and fireing, somehow she's not working class because other people are involved and paid by her? A guy like Bill Gate's Dad is categorized middle class because he works alone, sort of, despite essentially bossing around his clients with autocratic decisions made in the quiet of his office?

> Aren't those categories unactionable?

Not really; I mean, both sides of the log ideological struggle over capitalism and left alternatives has centered around both sides understanding and basing action around pretty much precisely the divisions in class interest reflected by those categories; they're quite actionable.

> I mean, a lady owns a beauty shop, spends 10 hours a day ordering supplies, doing payroll, managing advertising, hiring and fireing, somehow she's not working class because other people are involved and paid by her?

Right. As a business owner, she has distinct differences of interest from those living by wage labor (including an interest in minimizing the cost of wage labor); as someone who most apply their own labor as well as capital, she has economic interests distinct from those of pure capitalists. Hence, she's in the middle class of capitalism.

> A guy like Bill Gate's Dad is categorized middle class because he works alone, sort of, despite essentially bossing around his clients with autocratic decisions made in the quiet of his office?

Sure (though the founder of successful law firm probably is a working employer, not working alone.) Again, a similar alignment of interest is at play. There is an important distinction orthogonal to class, aside from just the degree of success, though: the lawyer is also part of the intelligentsia as well as the petit borgeoisie, while the beauty store owner is not. The intelligentsia cuts across classes, and have distinct interests.

You think lower middle class have employees?

Depends on how you define the term. But Bill's background was certainly neither.

I've heard the same confused argument in the barrage of anti-Zuckerberg comments that came out after the most recent "Will Zuckerberg run for president?" articles. Gates and Zuckerberg lived in wealthy households with parents who worked. They may have been 1% in income, but their riches now place them so much higher on the income scale it's ludricrous to try and compare their incomes to their parents. To attack their childhood as privileged discounts all the other people who were less well off during childhood who had made similar gains in wealth and perpetuates a very limited argument that all the 1% are bad. Essentially Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg as children were closer to the rest of the nation financially then they are now. You want to attack the privileged; wait until their children start doing things.

88% of the very wealthy ($30+ million) in the USA made their wealth themselves.


> Yet many want to 'solve' the problem of the 0.1% being so wealthy and as a result let the government do most of the charity work instead. I think this would be a huge mistake.

...You don't see the problem in relying on the charatibility of a tiny few to work towards the well-being of billions?

I don't want to 'take it back.' But, I feel donations should not be tax deductible. Why should I subsidize anything someone feels is worth donating for?

I edited my comment. By take back I did not mean the current wealth from of the current generation of wealthy. But take-back over generations using very large marginal tax rates. E.g. 'solve' the problem of the 0.1% being so rich.

Confiscating wealth is counter productive. But, so is a large group with unearned wealth where nobody they know actually earned anything.

IMO, the balance point is setting things up so the default is wealth is not maintained across several generations (3+), even though it can be passed down 1 or 2 generations and can be maintained with care past that point.

PS: I say this with many wealthy friends and family. It's surprisingly destructive and I don't want to setup multi generational wealth for my great grand children.

The sad part is that that's what is happening in the world today. The rich, when they fund their money correctly, stay rich due to tax policy, gray areas, and loopholes. (Insurance polices as one example for the ultra rich.)

If we don't tax people when they pass away, the money goes straight to their kids, and then a permanent upper class forms and we know what happened to France...

The US has been about meritocracy, and not an aristocracy. But people want to change that, to the detriment of the country, IMO.

When I said "But take-back over generations" I was not referring to an inheritance tax. I was referring to preventing new people from becoming as wealthy as today's wealthy by changing to a very large marginal income tax rate. It would be clearer if I said "widdle down the size of wealthy class over time". By far most of the wealthy today are new money, so an inheritance tax would do little in that regard anyway.

But back to inheritance:

> not maintained across several generations (3+)

You're inventing problems. Inheritance decreases exponentially. Multi 3+ generational wealth is already divided by 64 times (assuming 2 children + spouses). It is not possible without the children putting in significant work themselves. You're inventing problems.

At least we have common ground. Being able to pass on our successes to our children is a large and important motivator in life - one that would be incredibly unwise to remove.

You assume the spouse is not wealthy. Wealthy spouse turns 1:2 into 2:2 which is stable. Interest can also slow for the occasional al 2:3+ growth. Europe has family's that have maintained wealth over the past 500+ years.

"That’s according to a recent study by two Italian economists, Guglielmo Barone and Sauro Mocetti, who compared Florentine taxpayers way back in 1427 to those in 2011. Comparing the family wealth to those with the same surname today, they suggest the richest families in Florence 600 years ago remain the same now."

England has also had wealth maintained for 28 generations and other old money examples are not hard to find.

> That’s according to a recent study by two Italian economists, Guglielmo Barone and Sauro Mocetti, who compared Florentine taxpayers way back in 1427 to those in 2011. Comparing the family wealth to those with the same surname today, they suggest the richest families in Florence 600 years ago remain the same now.

I recall that study. They were still a multiple orders of magnitudes less wealthy, and that ignores any wealth/money/work children added themselves since that time. If anything, this study proves my point.

>Europe has family's that have maintained wealth over the past 500+ years.

>England has also had wealth maintained for 28 generations and other old money examples are not hard to find.

That's an excellent example of survivorship bias. Again also not acknowledging any work the kids have put in to maintain that wealth.

For every example of a rich family whose money has been kept for 3+ generations, I could find you 100 examples that dont (not actually, I should probably be getting back to work).

This is a non-issue.

I don't agree on large marginal taxes on labor, you'd be targeting high earning surgeons rather than rich families inheriting wealth. If we want to tax capital, tax capital, and put a wealth tax of low single digit percentage point paid yearly. If you want to exclude people's first home, then do that.

I'm still not sure how much of a problem this really is.

88% of the very wealthy ($30+ million) in the USA made their wealth themselves.


...the best source I could find.

That's with a long history of estate taxes and strong economic growth. Also, if you look at Americans with 10+ billion far more than 12% inherited their money.

The US has been stagnating with lower GDP growth rate over time which will likely change these numbers. Because the low % of inhered wealth is mostly due to large numbers of new wealthy not children of the wealthy losing their money. http://www.lagunabeachbikini.com/images/2014/economy/RGDPgro...

Well, only certain kinds of donations are tax deductible. You can donate $10,000 to me right now but you're not getting a penny back from the IRS if you do.

The bar to become a charity could be a lot higher but it's not exactly a rubber stamp.

If I pay you 10,000$ you and I pay a tax. But, there is a separate gift tax deduction and small gifts. https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employe...

Donations are really a 3 way tax break, I don't pay taxes on the gift, you don't pay taxes on the gift, and I don't pay income taxes on the money I use as a gift. (The arguable forth deduction is I don't need to realize capital gains before giving a gift.)

PS: The only way to actually lower taxes is to lower spending. Anything else is just shifting the burden to someone else.

> Donations are really a 3 way tax break

That doesn't make sense given the sums we're talking about. If I give someone $100 million (non-charitable), I don't have to pay an extra tax on the giving, I only pay taxes on the income. You're referring to a very specific gift tax scenario.

The majority of the Gates Foundation giving is not within the US. The people on the end receiving should not pay taxes on that as it pertains to the US. Further, the Gates Foundation giving within the US will frequently end up taxed after the gift via income taxes on salaries (whether we're talking about scientists, secretaries or in the field workers receiving foundation dollars to operate as part of a charitable organization).

The scope to the triple tax premise is, in reality, dramatically more narrow.

According to the US tax code you really do have to pay millions in taxes on a 100 million dollar gift to someone else. If they are in another country then that country's tax code applies and they might need to pay even more money.

Here is the actual form: https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f709.pdf

19 If line 18 is less than line 17, enter balance due

How is not taking his money subsidizing him? Tax credits would be subsidizing him.

Tax breaks for specific activities are by dentition a subsidy by lowering costs.

If people with blue eyes suddenly did not have to pay taxes then that would be a massive subsidy. If you get a pay check and the taxes are already taken it it's just as much 'your money' as if you got the full paycheck then had to pay taxes after the fact. The point is more money goes out of your paycheck because the US government subsidizes other and often very rich people.

Sorry for my ignorance but is this merely a technical distinction? I would have thought tax-credits, and non-deduction are effectively equivalent?

I'm surprised that people are asking how / why he is giving money away and no one mentioned his Giving Pledge:


Bill Gates and Warren Buffet pledged to give half of their net worth away during their life or death to charity. They're practicing what they preach.

The man that inspired them... "Over the course of his life, Feeney has given away more than $8 billion.." "As of 2016, he lives in a rented apartment in San Francisco, with a remaining nest egg of $2 million"


> Feeney is known for his frugality, living in a rented apartment

Seems like renting isn't that frugal in the long-term though... it's unlikely cheaper long-term than owning a condo or small home, ie. you're either paying your own mortgage or someone else's mortgage + rental profits.

It's not that straightforward. Because the capital generally appreciates too, the rental costs can be driven down below mortgage costs in some cases. But even without that, most mortgages require deposits, and to compare that against rental you also need to compare potential return from investing that deposit instead.

You can certainly profit by buying - I have profited substantially that way -, and buying serves as a hedge against outsize increases in rental costs, but there are also many situations where you can profit by renting.

Calling it out as a demonstration of frugality on the other hand is a bit odd.

San Francisco has insane rent control. He's probably paying something like $300/mo if he's been there for decades.

California has insane property tax control, if he bought decades ago he'd be sitting on millions in property value and pay nearly nothing in taxes. Works both ways if you get lucky.

They also have insane tax control. If you've been in your house for decades you pay a far lower tax rate than your neighbors. There are too many people without skin in the housing market game, we should get rid of both Proposition 13 and rent control and let everyone feel the pain of what happens when you don't build enough houses.

San Francisco has insane loopholes for rent control too. If he were really paying 300/mo he'd have been kicked out for an OMI 10 years ago.

He is also 86. Maybe he is trying to make his life a little easier at this age.

Gates and Buffett have, for many years now, publicly pledged to give away basically 99% of their wealth.

Buffett's premise on not giving much of his wealth to his children, goes back perhaps 40 or 50 years now based on what he has said. According to Gates, an article that Buffett wrote for a business magazine, published ~25 some years ago now, informed and altered Bill's thinking on the detriment of giving such immense wealth to the next generation.

The Giving Pledge is primarily for other billionaires to pledge to give away at least 50%. The 50% level made it an easier bar to jump over, as of course not all of the billionaires want to match the 99% marker Gates & Buffett have set.

Andrew Carnegie was the OG give-all-my-wealth-away-before-I-die incredibly wealthy person. I read an essay by him in high school where he though, philosophically, he shouldn't give his money to his kids rather than donate it.

I guess it really depends on what your view of the world, and your place in it, is. I was very surprised when my parents basically said that whatever wealth they accumulated, their goal was to leave that to me. I think they view it as their duty as parents, for that to be the right thing to do.

Others have a view of propagating their genes to the next generation and view inherited wealth as the way to do so (Yes, I realize my parent's view of good parenting indirectly coincides with this view).

Yet others believe in the strengthening of their community, and not just their own genetic offspring. e.g. I believe Carnegie established libraries, Universities etc. for the "people of Pittsburgh".

It's very hard for people to fathom this, but there is a level of wealth where it is rational to blow most of your money and set aside only a small percentage for your loved ones. If Bill Gates blows 99.999% of his wealth, his kids still get 9 million dollars inheritance!

Those views are rather strictly tied to the number of 0's in ones bank balance I feel. Even 1% of Bill gates worth is many hundreds of millions. Where as the average person who seeks to leave everything to their children might be in the millions. But possibly even less.

This is from 2013[0], but the avg. inheritance in the US at that time was $177K according to an HSBC survey.

[0] http://money.cnn.com/2013/12/13/retirement/american-inherita...

I think for Carnegie it was more of a philosophical point. His belief (if I remember correctly) was that the idea of a birthright was fallacious and possibly counter-productive. Rather than pass his holdings down to his descendants, he believed that we all have an ethical prerogative to use what we've earned in our life to benefit society at large.

Famous for a library in every town- over 2500 of them. Many still operating.

Yes, the small Ohio town my parents live in near the PA border still has an active Carnegie library, as do some nearby towns. I believe the town had started a library housed in existing town buildings, but after a few years of growth it needed its own location. The town wrote to Carnegie, who gave them a grant for a new library building, which is still used. I'm sure the story is the same in many other small towns.

> Buffett's premise on not giving much of his wealth to his children

I mean, it's still an insanely huge amount of money he'd be giving to his children (Gates as well). 1% of his networth is $762 million - you're talking about an insane amount some people are going to get just by being born (even after taking into account inheritance taxes and splitting the money among siblings).

And we should also remember that charity is a form of conspicuous consumption for the ultrawealthy. Huge charitable donations are the modern day equivalent to monuments or statues. You're well passed the point where your money can increase your personal well being, so you might as well spend it on something that makes people pay attention to you, wins you accolades and gives you a legacy.

We'd all be much better off if they just donated it to the United States Treasury, wouldn't we?

Reminder to any who feel that is a great idea and are inspired to emulate it, but don't make so much money that they can afford to donate half of it, there's a different pledge for us little guys, the Giving What We Can Pledge:


The article covers it:

"Gates created the Giving Pledge in 2010 with billionaire investor Warren Buffett, and the pair have been joined by 168 others who’ve promised to give the majority of their wealth to charity."

Sure, I was just surprised to see no one else having mentioned it here in the comments.

it's capitalism at is best you start a company in your garage take it to be worth Bilions an then give it all away, doesn't get better than this.

I don't think you can really conflate capitalism with philanthropy like that. They're just... different things.

"Capitalism at it's best" isn't people giving away money... it's people being competitively compensated for their contributions to society-- the ability to take risks and reap the rewards.

Of course then you can argue that tax is a way to enforce a minimal amount of philanthropy onto people, forcing them to contribute to the greater good whether they want to or not... but people who seem to be very vocally in favour of pure capitalism also seem to be very vocally against high taxes.

  *it's people being competitively compensated for their contributions to society*
Sorry to nitpick .. you're describing meritocracy I think, as envisaged by free-market economics (which is entirely reasonable - to a point).

Capitalism isn't so much the emergent market behaviour as a system that provides a means to create and develop wealth (i.e. capital). The labour market is one aspect of this, but it's not exclusively tied to it.

  *Capitalism is an economic system and an ideology based on private ownership of the means of production and their operation for profit.*

Not necessarily. Depends who you cked over along the way, including your workers. Not saying this applies to Bill, though.

You missed the 90's I see.

The guy is a ruthless, greedy arsehole.

There's a good argument that he was in the 1990s. That doesn't mean he is one now. People change.

But let's suppose for a moment that he was one, and he hasn't changed, and he still is a terrible person underneath. Does that make the people who would have got malaria but didn't because of the Gates Foundation's efforts any sicker?

Or, contrariwise, consider some area where it turns out that the work of the Gates Foundation has done harm as well as good. Education seems like it might be an example. Let's suppose that in fact Gates is a total saint, motivated by nothing but pure benevolence. Does that make someone whose education was worsened by the foundation's activities any better educated?

I find I don't really care very much whether Gates is a good person, for any particular definition of "good". I care about the effects of what he does. Maybe he's giving his money away to make himself look good, or for a bet, or because he hopes it will placate an angry Microsoft-hating god, or something. Who cares? What matters is what actually happens as a result of his giving that money away.

On the whole, that's looking pretty good.

Missed the 90s? Not really. With psychotherapy I've almost recovered from years of testing IE4-6 incompatibilities.

What's the link with capitalism ?

Capitalism as in the private accumulation of large sums of capital.

if you give away your large sums of capital, then it isn't the accumulation of large sums of capital anymore, and therefore isn't capitalism.

Charity is very much a part of capitalism, if you want it to be. That's sort of the point. The choice of being able to keep your money or donate v. the requirement to give away most/all of what you earn to the state.

Charity is neither unique to capitalism nor a testament to it working. It's rather a monkey-patch fix to make it look more viable than it is - people think everything's fine as long as a few "heroes" donate.

A different view on Gates' charity work: [1]

Some highlights:

"The first question concerns accountability... The Foundation is the main player in several global health partnerships and one of the single largest donors to the WHO. This gives it considerable leverage in shaping health policy priorities and intellectual norms..."

"‘Depending on what side of bed Gates gets out of in the morning,’ he remarks, ‘it can shift the terrain of global health.’.."

"It’s not a democracy. It’s not even a constitutional monarchy. It’s about what Bill and Melinda want..."

"In 2008 the WHO’s head of malaria research, Aarata Kochi, accused a Gates Foundation ‘cartel’ of suppressing diversity of scientific opinion, claiming the organization was ‘accountable to no-one other than itself’."

"As Tido von Schoen Angerer, Executive Director of the Access Campaign at Médecins Sans Frontières, explains, ‘The Foundation wants the private sector to do more on global health, and sets up partnerships with the private sector involved in governance. As these institutions are clearly also trying to influence policymaking, there are huge conflicts of interests... the companies should not play a role in setting the rules of the game.’"

"The Foundation itself has employed numerous former Big Pharma figures, leading to accusations of industry bias..."

"Research by Devi Sridhar at Oxford University warns that philanthropic interventions are ‘radically skewing public health programmes towards issues of the greatest concern to wealthy donors’. ‘Issues,’ she writes, ‘which are not necessarily top priority for people in the recipient country.’"

More in the article...


Gates also acts as an economic enforcer for the IMF, quite literally using his charitable giving as a carrot/stick to force nations to accept policy decisions and often crippling loans from the IMF. But you don't have to take my word for it, listen to the man himself:

During the panel, Bill Gates and Jim Yong Kim concurred on the need to leverage increased private sector financing in development through business-friendly policies. While the World Bank President hailed countries who made “unpopular” policy choices, critical to “let private sector investors feel comfortable,” Gates hammered away the need to “reform the system” and underlined development aid’s capacity to influence the process.

Both ignored their co-panellist and Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, Raghuram Rajan, who called for development efforts to support the policies that developing countries want. Rajan also noted that global transparency on taxes and removal of barriers imposed by rich countries on exports from the developing countries would help build a more equitable world.


> who called for development efforts to support the policies that developing countries want.

Do you know examples where the countries wanted something while Gates and Co wanted something else?

That is the same link which GP gave and it did not have any examples. Not sure why you linked it again

So let me ask again, do you known any specific examples?

Are you serious? This is almost too goofy to merit a response.

Yes, when a billionaire gives away billions of dollars he's not accountable to anybody else. Why the heck would he be? If he were, then he wouldn't have donated it in the first place but would have just "invested it" in a company he created and controlled.

There's no way to spin this where donating to a charity is more evil than what all the other .1%s do, hoard it.

It isn't that goofy, and it's a known issue in providing international aid. If I provide a country with agricultural issues a number of tractors, but then outsize repair, maintenance and consumable costs for operating the tractors while also ignoring the social issues associated with the donation, my donation of resources can cause downstream problems for the aid recipient which dwarf the benefit provided by the donation itself.

That said, without concrete examples of emergent issues, I err on the side of praising aid efforts rather than condemning them.

> Are you serious? This is almost too goofy to merit a response.

Unfortunately, I suspect the poster is dead serious. This is why I don't recommend trying to appease socialists. It is never enough and they'll never be happy until we're all 'equal'.

The first time I came across this phenomenon was while listening to Thomas Piketty on YouTube and he went on and on about how the philanthropic approach Gates and people like him (the wealthy) were taking to solve the world's problems was flawed. I couldn't believe it! Piketty disapproved of Gates' donations and his philanthropy on the basis that one cannot donate to a charity that one still controls. To him that was ridiculous despite the fact that Gates' foundation has done a remarkable job thus far; more than Piketty - with all his socialist nonsense - will ever do in a million lifetimes.

The irony is that, the first time I heard of Piketty was via Gates' reading list on his website.

The mistake that some wealthy people are making is that they assume that they can appease socialists. You can't. They'll always want more or everything if you let them!

Think about it for a second. He didn't really give the money away he gave it to a charity he controls. That gift reduced the amount of taxes flowing to the public/government vs if he cashed in the stocks himself personally.

You and I are paying more on a percentage basis to the government.

> Think about it for a second. He didn't really give the money away he gave it to a charity he controls.

He is in fact giving immense sums of his money away. You should indeed think about it for a second. The Gates Foundation has expended tens of billions of dollars so far.

Fact quote from their site:

"Total grant payments since inception (through Q4 2016): $41 billion"

"Total 2016 Direct Grantee Support: $4.3 billion"

That is an extraordinary sum already. That money is gone, it is not under their control. They're spending $4.x billion per year at this point, that money is non-recoverable, it gets spent. Over time, the fortune is extinguished, as they're forced to give 5% per year. Get it?

Every charitable endeavour gets accused of this kind of thing at some point. Even Mother Teresa [1]. Big money without any strings attached doesn't exist. What's the alternative? Government aid is no better in this regard.

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/02/25...

Pledging to give away so much of your wealth has interesting side benefits. You get to keep your money out of the hands of the government and if you're donating to your own charity then you also get to keep your family in control of the money.

I definitely don't mean to diminish the contribution of the Gates Foundation though. I often hear that they're one of the good ones.

probably the money is more wisely spent by the private institution than the government.

The argument usually is that by donating your money to a charity that you control instead of paying taxes you effectively undermine democracy.

The majority of federal income tax receipts go to military spending [+] (ignore social security and healthcare, those are funded out of compulsory payroll taxes, which is distinct from federal income tax); you're doing more social good (in general) by diverting wealth to charities that promote social welfare than giving that money to the federal government (I'm sad to say).

Sometimes democracy is wrong. More social programs, less F35s.

[+] http://www.usgovernmentspending.com/

Your own source shows defense as 17% of overall spending.

As a percentage of income tax receipts, the number for military spending is closer to 25%. See, for example, https://www.nationalpriorities.org/interactive-data/taxday/

It's 21% for FY 2016 (which is a percentage based on including social security and medicare, which as I mentioned, are not part of federal income tax receipts; the percentage ). 2017 isn't done yet; I'm not using an estimate with an administration going sideways.


"Military budget of the United States. ... The budget funds 4 branches of the U.S. military: the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force. In FY 2015, Pentagon and related spending totaled $598 billion, about 54% of the fiscal year 2015 U.S. discretionary budget."

Yes, we're spending that much on the military. Yes, its pathetic. Yes, its why its best to avoid (not evade, which is illegal) paying income tax whenever possible. I prefer my welfare programs not enable the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of civilians in a foreign country, but that's just me.

OK, that is bizarre; visit usgovernmentspending.com site on mobile and the chart says US FY2016 spending on Defense is 17%. On desktop, the chart says 21%.... In any case, as a percentage of federal income tax it does seem that defense is around 25%.

"U.S. discretionary spending" is simply spending which is authorized annually instead of authorized by laws spanning multiple years. It doesn't seem to be a highly meaningful categorization if you are arguing about where your dollars are going -- the dollars don't care what year they were authorized to be spent.

Separating out payroll vs income taxes -- in other words recognizing the different tax rates for "earned" vs. "unearned" income -- is not entirely irrelevant, because dollar for dollar your capital gains taxes will be spent more on defense than welfare, but it's still no where near 50% of your capital gains taxes being spent on defense.

For a different view on this, see The Trickery of the US Military Budget.[1]

"A key federal budget trick is using words to confuse citizens, such as labeling U.S. military spending as “defense” though much is for “offense” and sliding costs for wounded soldiers under “veterans affairs” and nuclear bombs under “energy,” as ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar explains..."

Also, from [2]:

"The most recent figures related to President Trump’s proposed increases in Pentagon spending, along with cuts at the State Department, show the general national security budget of the United States rising once again, with the 2018 proposal in the ballpark of $1.1 trillion."

Finally, see [3], where the budget breakdown is:

The Pentagon budget - $575 billion

The war budget - $64.6 billion

Nuclear warheads - $20 billion

‘Other Defense’ - $8 billion

Homeland security - $50 billion

Military aid - $7 billion

Intelligence - $70 billion

Supporting veterans - $186 billion

Military retirement - $80 billion

Defense share of interest on the debt - $100 billion

[1] - http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article33833.htm

[2] - http://www.veteransnewsnow.com/2017/06/02/1015056-the-milita...

[3] - https://warisboring.com/the-trillion-dollar-military-budget/

> Separating out payroll vs income taxes -- in other words recognizing the different tax rates for "earned" vs. "unearned" income -- is not entirely irrelevant, because dollar for dollar your capital gains taxes will be spent more on defense than welfare, but it's still no where near 50% of your capital gains taxes being spent on defense.

So that's not entirely how income vs payroll taxes work.

If you get a paycheck, out comes taxes for social security and Medicare. There is an annual limit on how much of your income is taxed for social security, whereas there is no limit for Medicare, and there's a bump in the Medicare rate after a very high dollar amount (near $250k/year if I recall). For our argument, none of the above is refundable (if you pay too much social security tax because of multiple W2 employers, the extra tax gets applied to your federal income liability).

For income tax, lots of people pay through their paycheck, although if you're below a certain yearly income threshold, federal income tax is not withheld (you even get a refundable tax credit for working if you're poor enough). Also, as you mentioned, capital gains taxes also are federal income tax revenue. So, income tax is not unearned income alone.

It depends on how democracy is implemented. It's just a tool afterall...

In Europe you still get more social programs, less f35... (not everywhere though).

Numbers for the 2016 Fiscal Year, all in Billions

Pensions 996.0

Health Care 1,121.2

Education 126.2

Defense 829.1

Welfare 377.2

Protection 37.7

Transportation 92.4

General Government 52.5

Other Spending 79.2

Interest 240.0

Total Spending 3,951.3

Defense as % of total: 21.3% (851.8/3999.5)

Defense as % of total minus social programs: 57.3% (851.8 / (3999.5-1011.6-1107.4-393.2) )

Note, the programs listed under Pensions, Health Care, and Welfare account for 62.8% of the budget. While you are correct in your statement, I don't like your conclusion. We should spend the 2.5 trillion on social programs more effectively not try and 3.3 trillion the same way.

> While you are correct in your statement, I don't like your conclusion. We should spend the 2.5 trillion on social programs more effectively not try and 3.3 trillion the same way.



"The U.S. outpaces all other nations in military expenditures. World military spending totaled more than $1.6 trillion in 2015. The U.S. accounted for 37 percent of the total.

U.S. military expenditures are roughly the size of the next seven largest military budgets around the world, combined."

We spend too much on military spending, full stop.

EDIT: Sidenote: Social security and Medicare very efficient as-is. They simply need more resources.

If you're concerned about military spending, your best course of action is voting against politicians that want to increase defense spending. Lower taxes on the wealthy doesn't keep the government from spending on defense, it just runs up a deficit that is then used as an excuse to cut non-defense spending (research, infrastructure, food for the impoverished, etc.).

> If you're concerned about military spending, your best course of action is voting against politicians that want to increase defense spending.

I'm only one person, and my one vote carries little weight.

> Lower taxes on the wealthy doesn't keep the government from spending on defense, it just runs up a deficit that is then used as an excuse to cut non-defense spending (research, infrastructure, food for the impoverished, etc.).

I'm not against higher taxes, but I'm also not against the wealthy avoiding taxes in the case of Gates and Buffett (and for other reasons, Elon Musk, using his wealth to drive progress forward) when their wealth are going to social causes. If you can't adjust how the federal gov budgets, starve the beast until competent representatives are in office while doing good for those in need.

You effectively undermine taxes and tax spending, not democracy. These two concepts both are part of 'government', but they're different.

It was a democratic decision to make charitable donations tax-deductible. Also what counts as "charity" is a political decision.

Maybe in Gates' case this is true, since he seems to carefully evaluate good causes, but in general it isn't. A lot of the charitable donations that the wealthy use for tax write-offs go to things like museums and universities with already-huge endowments. Not that these aren't important, but it's not exactly Habitat for Humanity or soup kitchens. Frankly I'd rather see that money spent on government social programs.

The more I read about this, the more I come around to the idea that charitable tax deductions should be ended entirely (actually I think all tax deductions should be phased out, but that's a bigger topic). It's effectively just another regressive tax.

Governments usually are just as competent or incompetent as private companies. The difference is that governments work transparently and are held accountable. We just don't see all the incompetent things happening in companies.

So what is his net worth made up of if he's donated all but 1.5% of his MSFT stock? His remaining MSFT stock is worth about $8B. What's the rest of his $82B made up of?

- Edit- Nevermind, found it on here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cascade_Investment

Cascade's investments are roughly 1/2 of his wealth. Bloomberg is currently estimating he's sitting on $43 billion in cash.


Honest question: can half of it for example $20B in cash, cure cancer? or HIV/AIDS?

Its important to understand, when anyone says "cure cancer", they are saying cure 100+ (mostly) unique diseases. $20Bn is not even close, try around 200Bn and 50+ years of research.

Maybe we will get lucky and find an amazing immuno-oncology drug that takes out half of them in the next 20 years, but I wouldn't bet on it.

I see it a bit differently, if you can figure out both all of the functional relationships in our bodies and devise a mechanism to precisely drive any and all of them, not only will you 'cure cancer' but you will be able to cure any other disease or ailment that is expressed as an undesirable functioning of that system.

I don't know if you can do that with $20B but I feel these days that its more likely to occur rather than the opposite (which is to discover some underlying uncertainty principle that would prevent directing cellular action in a predefined way.)

We are barely able to simulate a simple reptile brain and you are asking for complete understanding and simulation of any human body. I think you are vastly underestimating the complexity of biological system.

What's the project for simulating a reptile brain? I know we've not fully nailed the ~1000 cells required for simulating a whole worm, though we're getting there: http://www.openworm.org/

> I don't know if you can do that with $20B

You can't.

The NIH budget is ~$30B/year and we don't know the basic mechanism of action for many of the drugs we currently rely on to treat disease. It turns out biochemistry is pretty complicated.

I'm not sure a it follows that a perfect understanding of how our body functions leads to a cancer switch.

Mostly because cancer tends to be associated with dysfunction and it isn't necessarily the case that dysfunction can be externally corrected.

Here is how I reason to my conclusion;

We know that every cancer is the result of a genetic change in the cell DNA which disables apoptosis (cell death).

We know that we have a system in our bodies that is tasked with destroying cells with damaged DNA. (our immune system)

We know that when the immune system attacks cancer cells, it reliably removes the cancer from our systems.

What we don't know is how to reliably program, and deprogram, our immune systems on demand. If we knew both exactly how the immune system programming system worked, and could build tools to enable us to use that knowledge to actually program or deprogram our immune cells ...

Then we would be able to cure all cancers and autoimmune disorders.

Cure is a hard thing. Research can get us closer, but until you do it you never know if the research will pan out. Someone smart gets an idea (someone who already knows enough about the subject to have a reasonable guess as to what might work), then they go into the lab and try it. Over the course of larger and larger studies - eventually something fails and they start over with a new idea (often a refinement of the last one), until it gets through all studies and is shown to work. Nobody knows how long this process will take. It isn't known if a cure is possible though we have had enough success in similar problems to believe it is.

Gates is focusing on things like Measles. We already know to cure it. The only thing left is rolling it out. Gates can easily calculate that $x hires so many nurses, and buys so many vaccine doses. Thus eliminating measles is something that we can do with money. Unfortunately there are a lot of vaccine deniers claiming measles is not harmful and pushing to skip the vaccine which makes elimination less likely. You can help here without spending any many: talk about it with your social circle and importantly remind them that youtube, movies, and blogs are NOT a valid places to do research.

Gates seems to have put far more thought than most people into how to get the greatest net benefit to humanity from donating large sums of money. For example, he decided early on to fund development of a malaria vaccine, because it would save the greatest number of human lives for the amount of money he was donating.

So if anyone would know the answer to your questions, it would probably be Bill Gates.

I don't understand why you were down-voted for asking an honest question. Here's an up-vote to encourage fair play.

+1. I often have anti-pg approach opinions that I think got me on some sort of "downvote him" list.

Also my upvote doesn't seem to work. First I had impression myself, then asked fellow HNer to see if I'm wrong and my downvote for his comments didn't go through.

Thanks for upvote though.

Not to go too meta here, but hn has a very unique algorithm for vote count, it's not a direct 1:1, instead they use a combination of your hn rank, the account you're voting on,who else is voting on it, plus a couple other factors to determine whether your vote will leave an impression.

All these things are open research questions; there's no roadmap to curing these things, there's a bunch of promising experiments that may or may not pan out. IIRC getting a new drug candidate through the full trial process costs maybe $1B for those that get as far as stage 3 trials (the final stage; most candidates will fail out earlier; conversely if a drug passes earlier trials there will probably be people willing to invest in return for a share of future profits, so you don't necessarily have to fund the full $1B yourself), but there's simply no way to know how many candidates you're gonna have to try to get one that works.

I didn't see anyone else point how much money is already spent on cancer research. For perspective, the National Cancer Institute has a budget of about $5.4 billion for 2017, and that's not the only source of funding for cancer research. So in short, more than $20 billion has already been spent on cancer research and while an extra $20 billion would obviously help, it wouldn't be any sort of guarantee, let alone instant solution.


Well, it wouldn't hurt.

Great progress right now: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/research/car-t...

The total money spent on cancer is bigger than 20B though.

Interesting... So he owns 5% of Berkshire and 45% of Four Seasons. Nice

Hooray for Bill. When I was young the joke was how he was a crazy man trying to monopolize/take over the world. Seems ironically he may be the single man who has given the most to the world.

Hopefully other billionaires can take inspiration from him and recognize that helping the species is a more fulfilling game than "How many 0s in my net worth."

No mention of what project s the funds are going towards.

There have been some good words from the foundation regarding the (health, primarily I believe) programs in Tanzania. I wonder if this is towards scaling those projects.

Anyone have the scoop?

> Gates remains the richest person on earth after the donation with a fortune the Bloomberg Billionaires Index valued at $86 billion as of 10:40 a.m. Tuesday in New York. His donation once again puts Amazon.com Inc. founder Jeff Bezos close to the top spot, with a net worth of $84.5 billion.

Keeping a bit of wiggle room.

It's probably coincidental. I don't think he decided to give 4.6B overnight and I don't think he could have estimated what AMZN would be at on the day of the announcement.

I am not sure if I recall correctly but wasn’t there a reason where gates wouldn’t donate all of his wealth at once and needed to do it in stages ?

Also, maybe they can’t utilize all that cash at once. Therefore it would be best to be illiquid until you need the liquidity.

It is the mythical man-month applied to charity. It takes time to get results, adding more money doesn't help.

Nobody wants that much cash in one lump sum, they want an anual income. If you give me my anual income (including benifits and supplies) and I can quit my current job to do charity work. If instead you were to give me a billion dollars, I can still quit my job to do charity work, but this time I'll be doing it from a very nice yacht or something else.

Money to charity is the same way: you are much better off funding a smaller amount over the years (as opposed to some other job they could do instead) than giving them money, either they waste the money - even prudant investing of money is a waste since it takes away time that could be used on the thing you want the charity to do.

Mm. Makes me realize the mythical man-month is also a good counterargument to the "superhuman AGI is imminent" predictions. The correllary in AI:

It takes time to get intelligence, adding more cycles doesn't help. For all the same reason throwing more money at programming problems doesn't make them go away.

Hmm I think it's probably better to get the lump sum and operate off interest. Even 1% of $50 billion yearly is $500 million. I think the foundation could manage to exist off that.

There are several problems with that.

The problem might be solved - what should a charity dedicated to smallpoxs do with their 50 billion?

A good charity today might not be good tomorrow. Today they pay their officers a reasonable sum and the rest goes to scientists who get a reasonable sum. Next year they fire all scientists but one (the officers brother-in-law), and give everyone a massive raise. Science still gets done - just enough to stay legal.

That requires self control and discipline. Many people don't have a great mastery of it.

Why would you give your money to a group where you have concerns about their ability to manage the money?

I don't know why, but I always worry when I see huge donations that poor management will see most of the money end up devious hands. But I imagine with that much money, there's a ridiculous amount of attention as to where it's going, and plenty of good people willing to manage it. But I assume everything is The Big Short and House of Cards out there.

Bill Gates puts just as much effort into making sure his charitable endeavors are using their funds efficiently as he did in making sure Microsoft spent wisely.

So in general I think your fears may be well founded, but I don't believe so in the case of Bill Gates donations.

Zuckerbergs hundred million to Camden NJ was squandered. Too much money too soon. Plus a corrupt organization. Plus no one really knows how to make minority schools better. Its not from lack of trying.

I think this is exactly what I fear. No matter how much money we raise for curing cancer, it's not necessarily going to give us the cure for cancer. And now we have "charities" like Komen that exist purely to virtue signal while everyone's driving Bentley's. There's so much corruption out there, especially places like Africa where I know Gates has given a lot of love.

I think it's the opposite: you get $100/month and that is the only money you will ever get for that month to live off of, you will probably be very careful how it is used. But if you get $1 million a month you may be less careful

Probably because 1) he donates shares (instead of cash) due to tax reasons, and 2) the receiving party needs to sell the MSFT shares to end up with cash.

If he donated his entire stake at once, and everyone started selling, that wouldn't be good for the share price.

the stock does not have to be sold. it is used as collateral. The bank will accept $1 billion of MSFT stock in exchange for probably $1 billion cash

That's called a sale. Unless for some reason, Gates took a loan instead, which would be kind of a pointless way to give part of his net worth to the bank in the form of interest.

Interest on a collateralized loan for a while might be cheaper than capital gains tax on an actual sale.

For some amount of time, sure. But at some point you have to pay off the loan, presumably by selling the collateral, at which point your taxes still come due and you've also paid a bunch of interest. This only makes sense if you believe the stock will increase in value enough to exceed the interest paid.

If you're actually donating the stock (or the full proceeds from the sale), I'm not sure what the tax implications are anyway. You get a write off for the value of the donation, which will by necessity exceed the value being taxed. I think you actually come out ahead. But I'm no tax expert.

Do charities in the US enjoy an exemption on capital gains taxes when selling stocks?

Yes. Public 501c3 charities enjoy an exemption from almost all taxes.

There you go. You donate a billion in stock, and it ends up being a complete tax free transfer from stock into cash. Tax avoidance 101 guys

Perhaps he wants to see, if his money is spent wisely before donating more bucks?

He is donating it to The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which is controlled by himself. Isn't it just a different form of ownership?

Legally no - a nonprofit has its stated goals apart from whomever runs it, and if the managers aren't following those goals, they can be prosecuted. In practice, small charities can get away with misusing their funds as long as no one notices. But a large charity like the Gates Foundation has a lot of eyes on it, so Gates really has sacrificed a lot of control over that money by donating it.

In a sense, if you're acting legitimately. Yes, if not.

In this case every indication is that Bill is using the mechanisms as intended,and then some. Money goes from him to the foundation. The foundation spends it. Once the money is in the foundation it can't go back to him, legally or ethically. They are doing good work, unquestionably charitable.

I get the skepticism, given how anything involving tax often works. But, not everything is a scam.

It's a different form of control, not ownership. Bill Gates can never regain personal ownership of that wealth.

If Gates was interested in personally owning all of that wealth, the only logical approach would have been to never give it away in the first place.

The point of the foundation is that it's the ideal vehicle to give the wealth away to causes that Bill and Melinda decide they want to have an impact on. It's ideal because in exchange for giving the wealth away, the taxes are avoided. It's that simple. The people that routinely claim in threads like this, that it's just a scheme for dodging taxes, those people apparently do not understand much about foundation regulations or taxes.

There are rules about what you can do with the money once it is in a charitable foundation. You can't for example buy a picture of yourself and hang it in your house. Oh wait...

You have to spend at least 5% of your assets a year. Unless you are a church or college, then there is no amount. Some people want the 5% to apply to colleges too.

Well, they give the money away. So either way he's giving the money away to groups he thinks will do good work with it.

It's a non profit so no one owns it. He is still in control of it though,

That's a common misconception. Nonprofits _do_ have owners. And also, while they can't make money directly, they can spin off for-profit companies if e.g. they invent a cure for cancer or something.

They do have "stakeholders" which, naturally, can't profit from either operation or sale of the nonprofit, but, crucially, _can_ control creation of commercial spin-offs and spending. I.e. While de jure they can't be called owners, they still can (and often do) profit indirectly.

I have a lot more respect for someone like Elon Musk who invests his money back into new ideas than someone who simply gives most of it away to charity.

Malaria, low literacy rates, etc., are the byproducts of failed political systems and corruption.

Musk's impact on electric vehicle technology will drain a great deal of despotism from the middle east as dependence on oil wanes, far more effectively than any philanthropic contribution he might have made would have.

There are a number of technologies that can drastically change the dynamic between the elites (officials) and everyone else worldwide. Our most gifted thinkers and entrepreneurs should be inventing the next printing press or cotton gin, not attending charity functions.

Bill Gates is also applying his money where he thinks it will have the most impact - their foundation often invests in new technologies and startups whose products will have the greatest impact per dollar. If Gates and Musk are both working to maximize impact their difference is who they focus on. Gates primarily focuses on the most impoverished on the planet, while Musk focuses on the first world (and indirectly the most impoverished due to the effects on climate change).

Saying that the Gates Foundation does not reinvest into new ideas that maximize impact does a great disservice to what is one of most effective and effectiveness-oriented philanthropic organizations on the planet.

Impact in terms of what? Alleviating suffering or helping to fix the institutions whose brokenness has let the problems fester?

Alleviating suffering over the long term, which includes fixing institutions when it's appropriate.

Those two things feed into each other. Basic health increases the ability of a populace to fix institutions.

You act like "fixing" the political institutions in a foreign country is some trivial thing, as if people haven't been trying and failing to make interventions like that for a hundred years.

I think the hypothesis of: make healthcare, credit, etc widely available, and the political landscape will change much more probable than the counter hypothesis: fix the political landscape through some intervention and healthcare, credit, etc will follow.

Gates doesn't simply give his money to charity.

I would argue that in terms of doing good, investing money in concrete and well founded technology causes a larger impact. We can already eradicate diseases, we can already end world hunger. We can make so many miracles come true, what good is it to create further miracles if only the very few ever get to have them?

> Our most gifted thinkers and entrepreneurs should be inventing the next printing press or cotton gin, not attending charity functions.

You cannot expect an entrepreneur who made billions in one industry to be a genius in some other industry. (Musk is an exception)

You cannot just transfer your passion from one thing to another to invent the next big thing.

Can anyone explain how he only owns 1.3% of Microsoft now, and yet is worth $86 billion? Almost all of his net worth came from Microsoft shares. Based upon the MSFT market cap of $561 billion, he is only worth about $7.3 billion.

What accounts for this monstrous difference? He has cashed some out over the years, but not ~$80 billion worth.

Bill Gates owned ~24% of Microsoft in 1996 for example.

At the peak of the dotcom bubble, his holdings in Microsoft were worth between $85 and $95 billion (with a very limited diversification at that point). He briefly hit or nearly eclipsed $100 billion when Microsoft hit its highest point back then (in December 1999). The difference you're looking for, is represented in his program of routinely - and persistently - liquidating Microsoft shares over the last 20 years and diversifying into other investments.

The reason for the dramatic diversification out of Microsoft, should of course be obvious though: eliminate a single point of failure, particularly important given what he is attempting to achieve with his wealth (it's all going to the public good (his opinion of what that is of course)).

When you've hoarded so much cash and denied others a better life, it's easy to 'donate' like this.

Just to give the counter-argument, he has also created a lot of (technical, well paid) jobs for a lot of people all over the world over the years.

I'd love to see the creation of more trusts, such as the one that funds The Guardian, the one that funds The Economist, etc.

I hope it won't make the news like the money raised for Grenfell Tower Fire survivors

Is there any data on what he has given in actual dollars from his pledge to this one?

Don't forget that Zuck has also pledged 99% of his wealth.

Likely didn't cost him much (no disrespect to his huge donation meant) since MSFT shares rose something like 50% in the last few years.


Please don't start off-topic flamewars like this. We detached this flagged subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15020486.

I do not need your empathy. foreign invasion?! Are you proposing «let them die of malaria» as a solution to increased immigration?

Obviously, mass migration isn't the solution to Malaria deaths.

I would like to join ahakki in pointing out that I do not need your empathy.

How original.


Please comment civilly and substantively on HN or not at all.



eradication of Malaria (1000 deaths daily, much more suffering and cost to society).

If great efforts are made to eradicate diseases in an area that has historically been subjected to various diseases such that the local population has adopted the reproduction strategy of having large amounts of offspring to counter premature deaths, but upon eradication/reduction of said diseases there is significant delay in the abatement of the overproduction strategy if it abates at all http://www.unz.com/isteve/the-worlds-most-important-graph/

if this population surge then expands beyond it's historical borders and causes mass societal disruption on a neighboring continent whose civilization has historically contributed great innovation and wealth to the world at large, and subsequently, said wealth and innovation contribution declines because of said societal disruption, do those who sought to eradicate the various diseases harbor some responsibility for the diminished prospects of the world at large?

Granted these are delicate questions but I believe their being asked has not just validity, but importance.

Certainly, simply ignoring pain, disease, and suffering is almost universally unpalatable.

But modifying one aspect of a complex system for what appears to be perfectly benevolent reasons, it is not at all surprising to find there could be downstream negative effects, negative enough to far outweigh whatever beneficent contribution you thought you were initially making. How do you make value judgments in such cases?

Gates himself has said it is far better to help people where they are regarding the recent unauthorized population influx events in Europe.

So I don't believe he is entirely blind to these potential downstream catastrophic effects.

We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15019192 and marked it off-topic.

You are talking about children dying...

And you are also making the assumption that only Europe can contribute to innovation, and Africans can only be a burden on their neighbors and will never become contributors.

I would agree that if the solving of a crisis like Malaria results in population growth, we need to plan on success and also focus on supporting infrastructure for those people.

But I think you are saying something much more horrific. Maybe work with your therapist on empathy.

We need someone as smart as you to focus on making the world a better place for everyone, not using your intellect to make scientific justifications for genocide.

I don't know if that was an intentional flattery tactic to get me to read your most more closely, but it worked, thanks, regardless.

I'm surprised if the post read as "more children dying is the obvious optimal path," that wasn't my intent.

I'm meaning to draw attention to the fact that if we are going to have outside interventions into societies that have drastic effects on those societies, then the outside interventions should include plans for all foreseeable(and vigilance in watching for unforeseeable) drastic effects they incur, be they in population structure, political structure, etc.

In this case birth control education seems a prudent corollary plan to disease eradication. But it's more of a thorny problem than just saying here read this book, take this class, take this pill, if these reproduction strategies are expressions of deeply ingrained genetic tendencies.

Certainly birth rate in the western world has declined, but there are lots of differences in the western world and Africa. Not least of which westerners never had outside interventions into their culture and environment of this nature.

You didn't address it and I think there is merit to the point being made about your "bedside manner". I agree with your viewpoint, but it is important to tread carefully when it comes to the lives of others. Your point can be lost not by lack of merit but by lack of semantics.

Thank you for the feedback! Being hyper aware(at least I think so) of this issue you mention I tried mightily to tread carefully.

I think for the most part, the nature of the issue just makes it inherently open to objections of "bedside manner" when discussed in "polite society."

What do you think I could have done better in terms of phrasing or what have you?

I think the easiest way is to explicitly call out possible arguments and get your opinion out in front. E.g "Some might say this gives me a lackadaisical attitude towards the lives of others. Conversely I have nothing but the utmost respect for the lives of others and am concerned with the well being of others"

It's not a perfect example but it's an easy way to show that you are thinking about other people and what they might be thinking. You can combine this with an invitation for people to voice their opinions. People like knowing that their opinion is valuable especially when your assertions put the reader at odds with their own opinions.

Just a few things I've found help internet discussions. People read things with different voices and diffferent inflections so it's important to be explicit when possible, especially on a subject that is truly difficult to discuss in polite company.

Thanks for taking the time, I appreciate it.

Just so you know, I did go through your comment history far enough to make my own assessment of your intelligence.

You had thoughtful comments about women in tech, crypto currency, and some others I liked as well.

We share a lot of the same opinions, I just want to make sure we are not proving the ammo for the next Dr.Gobells.

Some think decreasing poverty/disease actually decreases population growth. This is what Peter Diamandis argues in his book "Abundance: the future is better than you think". His reasoning (based on correlations and maybe causational data) is poor families have a lot of kids because they think many of the kids are going to die. But once their situation improves they have less kids.


We've already asked you to please stop using this site for political and ideological battle, and we ban accounts that won't.

That makes the assumption that the "disruption to the neighboring continent" is going to be worse as a result of overpopulation than it already is dealing with neighbors who are poor and impoverished and disease ridden.

In both cases I don't think the "civilized" neighbor continent is enjoying the benefits of its poorer neighbor. There is an equal argument to be said that by eradicating these diseases that the poorer neighbor is able to pull itself out of that poverty.

Regardless, history is filled with population surges and mass societal disruption -- I am sure we can resolve it over time.

Civilized, no quotes needed.

Eh, mostly quotes since the definition of civilized is up for debate for the given discussion.

Does an African neighbor qualify? European only? etc

Gates has addressed these concerns with scientific data showing that "when children survive in greater numbers, parents decide to have smaller families."[0]


Yeah they've been saying that for a while now. Who's wrong, Gates or the UN?


Certainly, it is important to make efforts to be cognizant of negative ripple effects arising from even the most altruistic of endeavors, but it is also necessary to actually make decisions. The Horizon Effect[1] is unavoidable in situations like you are describing, but the most we can do is act conscientiously and avoid paralysis due to the inherent uncertainty that arises from our actions. I know this isn't the exact point you were raising, but reading in between your comment lies what I suspect is a hyper awareness of consequence, and I wanted to share my thoughts on that.

In response to the specific fear you mention, while this may be possible, I would consider it more important to successfully eliminate Malaria than to not do so for fear of the negative repercussions you raise. I think it is both more uncertain and more unlikely for those negative consequences to materialize in such a way that leaves humanity and leaders unable to respond adequately.

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horizon_effect

(edited for typos)

Good response!

It is certainly good to consider this perspective, thanks for the insight and link.

To me it seems that potential negative consequences of continued rapid population growth in Africa aren't so nebulous and beyond the horizon, we are already seeing them materialize, certainly there are other problems that need to solved as well, like certain elements of society attempting to browbeat others into thinking these societal disruptions are normal or acceptable or shouldn't be guarded against, but the population growth outside Europe is one of the prime movers of the negative effects we have already observed.

If things continue as they are the only uncertainty is the degree to which European civilization and thus European civilization's contribution to the world is negatively effected.

I harbor no affinity for Malaria or human suffering in general, but by ham handedly addressing this patch of suffering are we pulling open a larger patch somewhere else?

So what's the best way to address the suffering caused by malaria with a little more finesse and awareness?

Is there even a direct provable causal link between mosquito nets and population growth?

As mentioned, we are discussing an immensely complex system with all the surprises and non-linearity that entails.

what, if any, are other causes of African population growth?

What should be the Hippocratic Oath for philanthropy?

"First do no harm" is taken, "Secondarily no harm"?

How many steps toward the horizon should we take to determine if harm is occurring?

These are all interesting questions! I would like to mention that it is important to remember when analyzing these scenarios that the world in which we live is very much a real-time system; seldom is it necessary to make decisions for "long time horizons" without the opportunity to adapt, change or update the decisions along the way.

For example, consider the hypothetical scenario where a cure for Malaria is spontaneously discovered and rolled out in Africa. Suppose, then, that in the few years following the end of Malaria, African population economists argue that an explosion is in play, to the point where the country cannot hope to continue to support itself into the future. In this scenario, I find it hard to imagine that even the most austere and strictly enforced population control program could not match the rate at which the population would increase due to the elimination of Malaria. Moreover, I would not expect that even in the hypothesized scenario, such austere measures would need to be enforced, although I will leave that to the economists and public health experts to figure out. I would suspect that most people would prefer a reality in which Malaria does not exist, but every family in Africa is only legally permitted to have one child, than a reality in which no restrictions on family size are imposed, but Malaria remains a top killer.

The point I am making here is that this is very much a real-time system, in the sense that action can be taken as soon as it is suspected that negative effects may be growing. If such negative consequences are to arise, we are not committed to a downward spiral without intervention. Furthermore, I would consider it unlikely that the rate at which the population would grow as a result of eliminating one of the leading causes of death is so great such that no intervention by the African people can keep the "net good" of the scenario positive.

(Let us suspend, for the sake of argument, the thorny path of quantification of good - suppose we use QALYs, with some simplified metric for human quality of life that is defined in such a way that makes comparisons meaningful)

"How dare these children live and cause me mild economic discomfort."

The insight I was meaning to convey was more along the lines of, How much benefit have things like harnessing electricity, or the germ theory of disease brought to the world? Nearly incalculable right?

So if European society suffers mass upheaval and disruption in coming years owing to causes we can plainly see at present, how many more of these monumental, universally beneficial innovations and achievements will die in the crib?

What are your thoughts on pediatric cancer research in Western countries?

The US fertility rate is less than half of what it was a century ago, and less than a third of what it was 150-160 years ago. European fertility rates are similarly down by fourfold or something. It does not take many generations at all for fertility rates to drop precipitously once child mortality, women's education, etc go up. Your underlying premise "there is significant delay in the abatement of the overproduction strategy if it abates at all" is probably not correct, for any reasonable definition of "significant delay".

Your underlying premise "there is significant delay in the abatement of the overproduction strategy if it abates at all" is probably not correct

That's the premise of population forecasters at the UN.

Why do you think healthier Africans would cause mass societal disruption in Europe? Do you think they're not capable of contributing to European society? Are they more likely to leave Africa if they don't have malaria? Is there no room for population expansion in Africa?

I genuinely don't understand the premise of your questions. Why would people start leaving Africa, and why would it be a problem if they did?

You raise some worthy questions, particularly, Is there no room for population expansion in Africa? with which I would be happy to engage, but without knowing that we are operating on the same baseline level of reality, I'm hesitant to do so.

Why would people start leaving Africa, and why would it be a problem if they did?

Are you completely unaware of events that have been transpiring in Europe the past couple years?

But I don't think it makes sense to compare population expansion to a refugee crisis. People leaving Africa right now are being forced out by war and violence, most of them aren't choosing to leave. In your hypothetical, I assume people are leaving for economic and social reasons, normal motivations for voluntary immigration. I don't think the refugee crisis will continue forever, and I don't think malaria eradication will reach the sources of the refugee crisis until the violence has mostly subsided.

Edit: I phrased this a little wrong, the source of the current refugee crisis is mostly not Africa, but my point is that the societal disruption you're referring to is not caused by voluntary immigration.

People leaving Africa right now are being forced out by war and violence, most of them aren't choosing to leave.

As respectfully as possible, this is completely wrong.


I phrased this a little wrong, the source of the current refugee crisis is mostly not Africa, but my point is that the societal disruption you're referring to is not caused by voluntary immigration.

Not even the majority of unauthorized border crossers into Europe are from Syria. Once again with all due respect, these are very definitely voluntary actions on the part of the border crossers.

Check out this article from 2 years ago, even then it wasn't primarily Syrians.


The migrants come from a vast swath of Africa and the Middle East, spanning not only war-torn Syria (in the first four months of 2015, Syrians accounted for just 30 percent of those crossing the sea) but also Nigeria and the Gambia and Eritrea and Somalia and Mali.

The migrants who embark upon this journey are typically represented as terrorized and impoverished—as people driven (to quote Amnesty International) “to risk their lives in treacherous sea crossings in a desperate attempt to reach safety in Europe.” The demographic and economic facts complicate that story. When populations flee war or famine, they generally flee together: the elderly and the infants, women as well as men. The current migrants, however, are overwhelmingly working-age males. All of them have paid a substantial price to make the trip: it can cost upwards of $2,000 to board a smuggler’s boat, to say nothing of hundreds or even thousands of dollars to travel from home to the embarkation point in the first place. Very few of the migrants from Libya are actually Libyan nationals.

Thanks, that was plenty respectful and I didn't know that. I wish there were sources and numbers to define "overwhelmingly", and I think refugees are probably more likely to pay "a substantial price" than a voluntary migrant, but overall I get the point.

I'll fall back to my other question then, why would people leave? I was looking at this image: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_migrant_crisis#/media...

It seems like most migrants at the moment are not from Africa. If their motivations are mostly economic, we would expect the numbers to rise in proportion with the population, right? And they would be tempered by economies improving as their citizens get healthier and more productive and they stop having to fight and treat malaria. After some time, people will adapt to having healthier children and the rate of population increase will get lower.

I'm just not seeing this imminent crisis of exploding numbers of African migrants, and I don't see how the issues of integrating people could possible outweigh the benefits of people not dying.

I also have some issues with what qualifies as "mass societal disruption", but I guess that's mostly a semantics argument.

Every single image I've seen of this has been overwhelmingly young males, the personal experience of everyone I know in the affected areas has been that they are overwhelmingly young males. In most cases cases "overwhelmingly" is an understatement, because they are all young males.

The data on that map is from 2015.

If you want to read about migrant/illegal border crossers from Africa in recent years, italy has been bearing the brunt of it.


Here's a recent video from a spanish beach that looks like some kind of absurdist theater. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xA02zZCGTdk

I also have some issues with what qualifies as "mass societal disruption", but I guess that's mostly a semantics argument.

How about pre-meditated and coordinated sex attacks with 1000+ perpetrators?

This was hardly an isolated incident, just one of the more shocking in scale and brazen in execution.


Societal disruption needn't be limited to large scale events like the above, just the steady flow of increased crime disrupts and degrades society. https://www.google.com/search?q=migrant+crime

The fewest are real refugees fleeing war and violence. Most migrants are just doing it for economic reasons.

This leads to surreal situations like in Germany, where asylum seekers went for holidays in the countries they had "fled" from in the first place. Everything on welfare payment, and the legal explanation was some convoluted "they have a human right to go back to their own country" kind of argument.

>People leaving Africa right now are being forced out by war and violence, most of them aren't choosing to leave.

That was probably true in the past, but that doesn't seem to be the case anymore:

"The UN has said that seven in 10 people crossing the Mediterranean from Libya are economic migrants and the rest are 'people in need of protection' like refugees and asylum-seekers."



Downvoted for citing UN data. Unbelievable.

I absolutely agree with you -- the great proportion of migrants are coming for economic reasons.

It seems that clear-cut numbers that do not fit the "women & children escaping war-torn Syria" narrative have a tendency to get down-voted...

Population growth is not exponential. Africa is not special.

"Diminished prospects of the world at large" more accurately describes the world after your post, not saving millions of lives.

This is what happens when you either have no empathy in your worldview or an extreme racial bias.

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