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Paul Allen commits majority of his wealth to philanthropy (nwsource.com)
119 points by muon on July 16, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 80 comments

Even at the expense of sounding like a troll, it always amazes me, really it does, that Bill Gates and Paul Allen the two founders of the so called "evil" MS have given so much money to charity while we haven't seen any such moves from Jobs and Woz the founders of "think-different" Apple.

Makes you wonder, doesn't it.

Woz is fairly well known as a philanthropist, and has been since the early 80s. I'd guess that he just hasn't drawn the same level of press attention that the Microsoft billionaires have. I'm also quite sure that he has nowhere near as much cash as them, despite how well Apple are doing now, they've had much harder times than MS.

I've no idea about Jobs though. His personal life has always been very secretive, and I would imagine any involvement with charity would be just as secretive.

Woz has spent decades teaching 5th graders. He donated most of his money to the school district he worked with. My bias might be showing, but this seems a lot better approach to education than throwing money at it like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation:

Starting in 2000, the Gates Foundation spent hundreds of millions of dollars on its first big project, trying to revitalize U.S. high schools by making them smaller, only to discover that student body size has little effect on achievement. [1]

At the expense of sounding like a troll, it amazes me that throwing tons of money at problems is commonly accepted as a noble thing. What we're lacking isn't money, it's imagination - we need new ideas for measuring achievement and improving education, and while economic power can act as a catalyst to implementing such changes, it's in no way sufficient for making a lasting positive impact on its own.

1. http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/10_30/b41880582...

This doesn't compute to me. What Woz is doing sounds similar to what the Gates' are doing. They are both working to improve the world in their own way. You haven't given any real reasons why one approach (teaching 5th graders) is better than the other (running a multi-billion dollar foundation). I'm not arguing that one is better than the other-just that they are different. Also, as you pointed out, they are both "throwing their money at it"-the only difference is the destination.

As a side note, you speak as if it's obvious that a smaller student body (and class size) doesn't equate to higher achievement. This knowledge may be more commonplace now, but the premise that smaller student bodies do equate to higher achievement has been one of the basics of school reform and school funding for some time now. Finding out the fact that this is actually a flawed assumption has a huge effect on public policy and spending on schools in the future. Maybe it's just me, but I'm glad the Gates foundation "wasted" their money finding this out because it's better than the US state and local governments continually spending (in aggregate) billions of dollars in taxpayer money on an improvement based on a flawed theory. Ideally the government would have realized this on its own much earlier, but you know how that goes....

Not only does gates throw lots of money at problems, they follow up the results with effectiveness studies.

And what makes his definition of "effectiveness" any good? When goals are as clear as "maximize profit", I have no doubt Bill Gates is one of the most competent in the field. However, when it's as vague as "improve education", I have serious doubts.

I'd trust a passionate fifth grade teacher to make good judgements of what's best for their students' education over a billionaire entrepreneur any day.

Where do you think the mantra of 'smaller class sizes = better education' came from in the first place? Though I don't doubt the advice was was honestly intended, teachers do have an economic interest in reducing class sizes (as it increases demand for their educational skills and accordingly, wages). It's got to be easier to teach 10 kids than 20, and we generally feel we're more productive when we're not overly stressed, the economic implications of the 'small is beautiful' policy were incidental or even unconscious [1].

So, the Gates foundation spent a lot of money discovering that this has little real effect on educational outcomes. I don't regard that as a waste - it may have been an expensive lesson, but I presume the money was spent on subsidizing smaller class sizes in schools. The understanding we've gained will save many billions of taxpayer dollars from being spent on a widespread but mistaken belief about teacher:student ratios, which is a significant public good.

[1] I say 'were', because now that we have evidence of the policy's ineffectiveness, many teachers' union members have designated the Gates Foundation and Obama's education secretary as evil corporatists out to wreck public education.

I am all for both carefully designed and carried out research; and also from personal, anecdotal experiences of students and teachers. My mother taught me the first part of the Aeneid in Latin while as a 5 year old I followed her around on washday and making beds etc. I have taught doctors for 40 years,using lectures, pushing them to read encyclopedic books, short summary manuals, watching experienced doctors doing dangerous procedures on patients, using socratic discussion with other doctors, etc. and find that people vary in their ability to learn from each approach; therefor, I encouraged all, and if they found a way that worked best for them; to push that ahead of all others. But, when "research proves that class size doesn't matter", I can't help but think then that we should have large regional schools scattered across the U.S. I would suggest that we put 3,000 (three thousand) students in each classroom if size doesn't matter.

I don't regard that as a waste - it may have been an expensive lesson, but I presume the money was spent on subsidizing smaller class sizes in schools.

I can assure you that when a smart teacher who spends every day with kids says one thing about what's better for their education, and the Gates' Foundation's research says another, I have trouble seeing the validity of the latter.

What I'm saying is that yes, smaller class sizes are a requisite for a better education. Have you ever been in a classroom?

It sounds as if you're saying you believe in anecdotal evidence and doubt the scientific method.


(sorry to abandon this thread - I went away for the weekend) I have indeed been in a classroom, and even had some teaching experience, although I don't claim to be an education expert.

I have 2 problems with your approach. First, I don't want to over-rely on the reports of smart teachers. Not because I don't trust them, but because when it comes to public education we have limited financial resources, and a distribution of ability across the population of teachers. Maybe a smart teacher can consistently get better results with a smaller class. I could believe it. Unfortunately, we have yet to find a system that ensures we only hire and retain smart teachers. In matters of public policy, we are often forced to forgo optimal results for some, in order to achieve acceptable results for the system as a whole.

My second problem is more fundamental: how are we evaluating what's 'better'? If this determination is made purely by those who are most involved, then logic dictates that parents should be the ultimate arbiters of educational quality by virtue of having the greatest intimacy with their kids. Of course, we know that this is not the case in practice, because parents' commitment and ability varies very widely indeed, and so we cannot trust them as objective reporters. If we did, collage admissions officers and potential employers could simply call up an applicant's parents and ask them if the applicant would be a good candidate. In reality, we use testing of various kinds because it gives us some sort of objective yardstick with which to measure academic performance across a large population. We simply don't have the resources to fully evaluate every aspect of every individual candidate, and while statistical methods are rather dehumanizing they do offer enough predictive power to be useful.

Consider that while High School teachers express a high degree of optimism about the future academic prospects of their graduates, college teachers have been complaining more and more about the number of incoming students who need remedial classes in English or Math. Just as an excess of 'teaching to the test' may measure only test-taking ability, an excess reliance on classroom performance as reported by teachers may measure only the ability to perform in a classroom context.

> Have you ever been in a classroom?

Are you suggesting Anigbrowl does not have any education ?

No, I'm suggesting he's a little too quick in believing the "scientific method" over people with direct experience in a classroom.

I'm guessing a portion of that money is going towards "passionate 5th grade teachers", giving them the chance to use their expertise and imagination to improve education.

Bill Gates is, at the very least, very smart. Let's give him the benefit of the doubt that he's spending his considerable net worth in a way that helps.

> However, when it's as vague as "improve education", I have serious doubts.

It's fun and provocative to say, but do you really feel (or, I should say, think) this way? I could maybe understand if you were talking about, for example, the CEO of CitiCorp, who really doesn't give a shit about anything (compare his background vs, that of Bill Gates).

But are you actually calling out Bill Gates, and saying he's not legitimately trying to accomplish something good for the lesser blessed people in the world? Do you think he's in it for the publicity?

> I'd trust a passionate fifth grade teacher to make good judgements of what's best for their students' education over a billionaire entrepreneur any day.

Well, I don't know what to say about this. Do you actually have children, so that you've actually had to sit down and think about these types of things?

"I'd assume my conclusion any day over considering that maybe my hero isn't also the best hero of all."

That's a bit unfair. Woz donates, Jobs has thrown money and time into improving organ donation, and in any case Jobs has only become super-rich in the last few years - Gates passed that point somewhere in the mid-90s, so he has had much more time to think about it. I imagine Jobs wants to groom a credible successor for the next few years, so that the company's price doesn't plummet when he retires.

Organ donation, eh? How very selfless of him. Reminds me of an article I read once: http://exiledonline.com/memphis-where-the-oligarchs-eat-thei...

thanks for linking this. spot on.

Jobs has had quite a bit from his Disney holdings (which he got when Pixar was acquired; 138 million shares says fortune).


I remember reading this great article about Woz back when I subscribed to Wired.

> One of the great Woz quotes of all time is his half-apologetic explanation for his failure to be more aggressive about staying rich: "I don't feel attached to my money in normal ways."

> Undaunted, Woz describes for this graduating class his original vision of a technological revolution. Although he no longer designs computers, he retains something of the distracted and childlike qualities of the übernerd, and his delivery is fast, disjointed, and extremely personal.

"All of a sudden," Woz says, remembering his days at Hewlett-Packard, "affordable computers were coming! Computers that people could own! We could have them in our homes. There would be a revolution, and they'd be in every home. And we spoke in clubs, and we had a big club, and it grew to 500 members and it was huge and we just hung on every word. And the big computer companies, the ones that already existed, said, 'It's a little passing fad like ham radio. It will go away. It just doesn't matter. Nobody is going to want a computer in their home.'

"Well, that's right. The computers were ugly and they were big monstrosities and they didn't look like anything you'd want in the home. They looked like some big commercial piece of equipment with switches and things that you'd have to have a technician working in your house to keep it maintained. Our idea was that these computers were going to free us and allow us to organize. They were going to empower us. We could sit down and write programs that did more than our company's programs on their big million-dollar computers did. And little fifth-graders would go into companies and write a better program than the top gurus being paid the top salary, and it was going to turn the tables over. We were excited by this revolutionary talk.

"The club was all about giving, because back then there were no dollars in this business. It was: Give some knowledge. Write down a program you've got. Write down how to build a certain device. Offer some help. Offer some information. Offer some parts at a good price. Offer your own time."

Revolutionary excitement is always sparked when powerful information is suddenly shared. But, he goes on, this is not the mood of the computer industry today...

Wired 6.09: "The World According to Woz"


Selling (or donating) is about timing. MSFT‎ has seen its best days, while AAPL hasn't yet.

Giving money away seems to be a full time job, so Jobs he is still working at Apple and doesn't have time yet. Woz, he cashed in a lot of his stock when it was $24 a share (much of it to give away). I am not sure how much he has left but I don't believe he truly has enough to just give any more away.

Counter troll: Those guys have guilty consciouses :-)

What they're doing is awesome, but it's not an excuse for the anti-competitive crap MS pulled, unless that was something they did for philanthropy's sake. But it does make up for it, I think.

"The man who leaves money to charity in his will is only giving away what no longer belongs to him." -Voltaire

Apparently he's unmarried and has no children, so there's not really many good options for his estate apart from charity. I suppose he could disperse it among nieces and nephews, or build himself a pyramid for a tomb, but charity seems like the obvious route.

No, I say build the pyramid!

I vote for the moonbase.

Sure, but PA has also done quite a bit of philanthropy during his lifetime too and has also done some cool things in the sciences (SpaceShipOne, Brain Atlas, etc). What you're implying isn't charitable :).

Who does it belong to?

Now that is a worthy goal to set for a budding entrepreneur: becoming a future philanthropist.

That was Andrew Carnegie's goal. Way before becoming rich he had a goal to give away mass sums of money. He wrote about his philanthropic philosophy in The Gospel of Wealth, summarized here: http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1889carnegie.html

Erm... Did Carnegie state his goal was to give away money before he acquired massive amounts of it or was it after being labeled a robber-baron?

It's easy to say that being a nice guy was your goal all along after you get caught.

Not that Paul Allen is not a nice guy. There seems to be no evidence on the contrary.

Carnegie considered retiring at 35, when he was rich enough not to need to work more. But he kept working for the next few decades, and ended up making about 200X as much.

He wrote himself a memorandum, in which he totaled up his net worth and income, and decided it was enough. Apparently it wasn't, but that's a couple thousand libraries, organs, etc. that he otherwise wouldn't have purchased.

Oddly enough, Warren Buffett wrote something similar at about the same age, when he also semi-retired. Like Carnegie, he went back to work, multiplied his fortune a few more times, and had a lot more to give away at the end.

I agree that Carnegie, in the end, made a lot of good things possible. Still, it bothers me that we are so eager to consider that ends justify the means if the ends favor us.

Carnegie ruined lots of people. Along with his good deeds, you must consider the good all these other people never were able to do thanks to him. What makes his good deeds more worthy than the good deeds he prevented?

How did he ruin people? His company was incredibly progressive for its time.

Ruthless competition, mostly. The example that illustrates his character is not related to this kind of behaviour, but to how he treated his workforce.

The Homestead strike was caused by a broken promise to tie salaries to profits which, made in a downturn, reduced payments. When profits returned, he broke the promise, refused to keep salaries tied to profits, locked out the union workers who protested and used violence to end them. In the end, he hired immigrant workers in place of the previous employees, working for less in harsher conditions.

Not exactly role model.


This quote is, IIRC (lost track of the book and had to resort to Google) from Theodore Roosevelt.

FYI: There is no reason to use url shorteners on hn and many people will not click on them.

Sorry. The URL was so huge I felt bad. When more than 50% of the message is a insanely long URL, something is clearly wrong.

HN truncates the display of long URLs. Yours is http://books.google.com/books?id=ni0EsmebjYwC&pg=RA1-PA7...


Yes. In fact strike "on hn".

after you get caught

Caught doing what? Being successful?

Being "successful" also means, at least for me, having a clear conscience.

I don't want to do business with people who will do whatever it takes to make a profit. Life is not a zero-sum game. Even if it were, there are limits to what a gentleman should and shouldn't do and Carnegie did a lot of the latter in his pre-philanthropist life.

Chuck Feeney's Atlantic Philanthropies are well worth studying in this regard - they basically apply the same standards and practices to giving money away as Feeney did to making the money in the first place: http://www.atlanticphilanthropies.org/learning/atlantic-repo...

Feeney is the guy who came up with the idea of duty-free stores at airports. By the time anyone noticed he was a multi-billionaire, he had already set up his foundation and put almost his entire fortune into it.

An amazing gift from an amazing individual and one of the original hackers.

Indeed. He was the best of the early Microsoft.

He earned it so he can spend it anyway he wants, but it would probably help a lot more people if he used the money to become an angel investor in a lot of small businesses that would employ a lot of people. Funding startups in bio and space that would advance the technology, but probably wouldn't get funding from other sources.

No, he probably wouldn't. Look, I understand that this site has a lot of startups, but don't let the echo chamber go to your head. Funding startups is expensive-- we're talking hundreds of thousands of dollars minimum, I expect, for a startup that most likely will fail. That same hundreds of thousands of dollars can save the lives of thousands of people that are starving to death or dying of disease.

True, but a billion does a lot of startups and research money leads to treatments.

Also, doing a small business equivalent to the charity that pays single bill for a person (since many people are one bill away from broke) would help amazingly well. Buying a expensive coffee machine for the local family bakery, or paying a months rent for the some other local business might put them on solid ground and allow them to hire people. I just think someone with his business talent could really build neighborhoods better than most generic charities.

Once again, it is his money and how he chooses to spend it is his business and is amazingly generous.

This is a good step, but the state should also be taxing them at close to 90% as well. That way all the other billionaires who don't care about philanthropy are forced to contribute back into the system that allowed them to gain the wealth in the first place.

I don't know why this is being voted down - it is a valid point of view and historically significant!

There are pros and cons to different tax models. A lot of US history has contained very high tax rates for the highly wealthy.

This was the first google result (I don't want to promote that org)


That would make everyone poorer in the long term.

Which is better?

Just giving away money or targeted investment on critical research/development and social needs to inflict a lasting change (without taking any profit)?

Would you drop few billion dollars on Africa or would you make investments to create long-term industry that will give people jobs and help them help themselves?

I think what Paul/Gates/Buffet and others are doing is great, but I think we have to start looking at ways to make maximum impact instead of feel-good philanthropy to non-profit organization.

IMO ofcourse.

Calling the Gates Foundation some feel-good philanthropy is doing a disservice to everyone who has contributed towards global health and development:

> Our work in infectious diseases focuses on developing ways to fight and prevent enteric and diarrheal diseases, HIV/AIDS, malaria, pneumonia, tuberculosis, and neglected and other infectious diseases.

> http://www.gatesfoundation.org/global-health/Pages/overview....

The efforts by these tech and finance giants are definitely not "feel-good philanthropy". That's prob the most insulting thing I've heard said about their work considering that it's one of the largest philanthropic undertakings ... ever.

Did you read the article? Allen is not planning to "drop a few billion dollars on Africa." He's making specific charitable investments, just like you suggest.

In order to do what you are suggesting, infrastructure and education needs to exist. You aren't going to worry about working on your cool start-up if you need to cart clean water 2 miles on your shoulders every day and your kids are sick with malaria.

Is there a list of achievements of the foundation ?

Why was he able to make billions anyway?

That money would have been spent better on charging less for his products than giving it to charity where much will probably be lost in immense bureaucracy.

Could you define a level of bureaucracy that would be acceptable to you? 10%? 20%? 30%? While many charities are woefully inefficient, so are many businesses. And charities don't live in some kind of vacuum: inefficient charities fail just like inefficient businesses.

Its the greater point which you have missed. He is not being some great guy, he is not being awesome, in this drunken state I am free to say that which I wanted to all along, he is a thief pure and simple, it is not HE giving away money, HE is not being ethical, some kind of god we should all adore for being so nice to us paroles.

He stole this money. He charged much more for his products than he clearly, plainly knew he should have. He is not some guy who might have guessed how much he should charge, thus through trial and error trying to find out. He knew full well that he was making obscene amounts of money because he was charging highly for his products.

So my point was not about charities. They are a matter for a different discussion. My point was, why on earth was he able to make BILLIONS, you know an amount that millions of us together need to work our Ass off to gain in perhaps our life time.

Its legitimised theft and nothing else.

I wouldn't advise arguing against capitalism while drunk.

What does the amount they charged for their product have to do with anything? Pricing is influenced by the market - the market was willing to pay what they were being charged. I don't know that pure capitalism is the ideal system (being Canadian I rely on public services like health care) but it is very difficult to claim he is a thief.

They were wildly successful because they added a lot of value to the market.

Charging less for his products would have primarily benefitted shareholders and white-collar professionals in American and Western European corporations.

Why should he have benefitted them over abjectly poor people in the rest of the world?

How would have shareholders benefited more if the company is making less profit?

Shareholders of customers. Ambiguous grammar.

Also, down vote the comment all you like. I was fully aware you would.

Engage however if you dare :), that is what shows your worth.

This type of comment isn't useful. Please refrain from feeling the need to add this when people disagree with your comment.

I was making a fine point. The comment was down voted because they disagreed with it. Yet reasonable people can disagree.

I think in this community down voting is used to discourage a certain behaviour, not so as to penalise someone who expresses a valid opinion.

Charities are full of bureaucracy and the entire money does eventually not end up to the people who are supposed to get it. Also, squeezing as much profit as possible, perhaps to the expense of life and great environmental disaster in the case of BP, is not desirable.

To escape from death tax?


Man, he may even give away enough that he's no longer one of the 250 richest people on the planet.

Don't get me wrong, it's a great gesture but let's put it in perspective. He is and will remain obscenely rich and this will make absolutely no difference to him in terms of how he lives his life.

In terms of disposable income and day to day impact on what he can and can't do, it's probably less significant than someone on this board giving away $10,000.

> He is and will remain obscenely rich and this will make absolutely no difference to him in terms of how he lives his life.

It will make a difference in lives of millions of others - absolute good is better than relative good.

> ... day to day impact on what he can and can't do, it's probably less significant than someone on this board giving away $10,000.

It's much better for the world for billions to go into productive endeavors than $10,000. You shouldn't award extra points for suffering. In fact, I award extra points for a person being able to do massive good without hurting themselves.

I'm not talking about suffering, I'm talking about not even slightly restraining the most astronomical privilege.

The man is worth $13bn. He could give away 99% of his wealth and still live out his days in a level of luxury which will never be experienced by 99% of Western world's population, let alone the world's.

And what is wrong with that?

Given our economical system - it is a certainty that certain individuals will be so wealthy they can afford anything.

The inevitable is hardly wrong!

It's only inevitable if you assume that our economic system is right and immutable. Personally when it creates gaps as big as it does between rich and poor I dispute that's the case.

Don't get me wrong, we need to encourage risk takers and wealth creators but how many sports teams or super yachts does one man really need as just reward for his efforts? Particularly in the case of Paul Allen when many will dispute that the actions of the company who made his wealth were in the best interests of the industry.

> probably less significant

Significance depends on point of view. There are at least 3 points of view here: the donor, the recipient, and the outside observer.

I think the recipients in this case might have a decidedly different opinion on the relative merit between donations measured in tens of thousands and those measured in millions. For many it can literally be the difference between life and death.

So, it may "hurt" more for you to give $10,000, but the absolute good that can be accomplished with hundreds millions is far more important, imho.

this will make absolutely no difference to him in terms of how he lives his life.

You are conflating the suffering usually accompanied with a a good deed with the deed itself. The fact that he may not take any hit to his lifestyle means nothing. The fact that he is giving away his own money should be enough for you.

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