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Bill Gates – A villain who lived to see himself become a hero? (2016) (reddit.com)
43 points by ghgr on Feb 9, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 53 comments



While what the comment states may be factually correct, it is unfair, in my opinion. Classic example of people sitting in their couches at home to point out everything Bill Gates did wrong in an attempt to judge him for the right he's doing.

Business is business, he did what he had to in order to see his company thrive. And now he's stepped back and wants to give back to society. Branding him as a villain who wants to buy his way into heaven is a cheap shot.


> Branding him as a villain who wants to buy his way into heaven is a cheap shot.

Moreover, in reality the choice is usually between a villain "who wants to buy his way into heaven" and a villain who doesn't give a fuck. I'll take the former over the latter any time, because forever-saints with lots of money generally do not happen.


> Moreover, in reality the choice is usually between a villain "who wants to buy his way into heaven" and a villain who doesn't give a fuck. I'll take the former over the latter any time, because forever-saints with lots of money generally do not happen.

Indeed. There's also an immense difference between doing a genuinely good act for self-serving reasons (ie getting into heaven), and masquerading a self-interest as a noble good, meaning the act will have tangible negative effects, in conflict with its image.

What I mean is that "buying your way into heaven" and being a saint with tons of money doesn't have any meaningful difference. It doesn't matter if I build wells and schools in a third world country for instantaneous euphoria or for delayed euphoria through praise or for speculated reward in the afterlife.

As long as you're not building the school in order to indoctrinate the children into supporting your plans of world domination, you can and should do good for whatever reasons you want.


I agree.

> What I mean is that "buying your way into heaven" and being a saint with tons of money doesn't have any meaningful difference.

It doesn't at the act of doing the spending, yes. The difference I meant was of history - by "a saint with tons of money" I meant someone who never did anything questionable throughout their entire life, and yet somehow still ended up in command of millions (or billions) of dollars. That pretty much doesn't happen (especially because there is always someone who'll find something questionable in everything and will spin it as evil; even Jesus got tried and executed for pissing off the establishment).


Their are limits on what people are willing to do so their company will thrive. His actions happened to cross the line for many people as well as the law.

As to giving money away, when someone is still one of the richest persons to ever live their past donations while valuable are no real sacrifice. I respect the effort he has put into being effective with his givings vastly more than the vast quantities of wealth he has donated.


> As to giving money away, when someone is still one of the richest persons to ever live their past donations while valuable are no real sacrifice. I respect the effort he has put into being effective with his givings vastly more than the vast quantities of wealth he has donated.

That's the point, though. Just giving away all your earnings and going poor from then on is stupid, not charitable. The way Gates does it, he ensures much more money will be invested (and also money invested won't be squandered as easily) over time than if he just gave it all away in an instant.

I feel that talking about donation size relative to one's remaining wealth often boils down to implicit references to the Parable of Poor Widow's Offering, in which Jesus compared the rich people offering God money they didn't need to a poor widow who offered the last money she had. But then, that parable was about sacrifice and the priority God takes in one's life. It was not a recipe for effective altruism!

(For an effective altruism recipe, the Parable of the Talents is better, IMO.)

(INB4: I make references to the Bible not because I assume everyone is Christian, but because those stories are a big part of the culture almost all of us here grew up and live in.)


Charities can invest, just look at the Nobel prize for example.

Anyway, I am not saying he should become poor, just that the qualitative difference from 50 billion to 100 billion is effectively meaningless. If he had donated down to say 200 million that would have had a meaningful impact while still leaving him incredibly wealthy.

Consider, if someone makes a huge donation in their will they still make an impact, but it's got zero lifestyle impacts on themselves. The money is still very useful to other people it's just useless for the dead person.


And I'm not saying this is about being poor or not being poor - it's more about control of the money and maximizing the impact it makes over time.

Charities can invest, but were Gates to give away everything to some charity, and then assume control of that charity, nothing would change and people would still bitch about him being rich and not really giving anything away. Gates does what he does because he believes he can allocate the funds more effectively than a random group of people running a charity (who might e.g. suddenly decide it's better to spend on low-importance, high-visibility cases, and squander all that wealth). I'm convinced he's right on that one.


I am not criticizing his giving. I doubt I would be that efficient with that much money. I generally disagree that charities should be tax deductible, his foundation is one of the reasons I am somewhat hesitant about the idea.

I am simply referring to it in terms of diminishing marginal utility. aka The first billion is vastly more useful than the second billion.


I don't think BG feels he or Microsoft did anything wrong, so I agree he in not trying to atone for anything. He is just doing good because he can, and that is great. It is likely he doesn't care what some bitter geeks thinks, since was already considered a hero by larger parts of society on account of being extremely successful. (And non-geek people generally like MS products like Office, especially if they have tried the competition.)

That said, we are still allowed to judge. Just saying "business is business" can justify anything and is akin to saying nothing is unethical as long as you make a profit.


The positives and negatives of a person are not additive in a way that if you add good things and subtract negative things you get some final value.

These all can be true at the same time.

* Gates was an angry office bully - he admits this himself. He was total jerk.

* Gates routinely used dishonest business tactics and monopoly power to crush competition. Microsoft contributed negatively to software development. Microsoft Research was famous for doing good stuff that was absent in MS business.

* After retiring donates his money to charity.

Gates is not alone. John D. Rockefeller and many other business tycoons have done the same.


I disagree. Bill Gates is exactly what the title says, a villain who became a hero.

We also have people who were heroes and stayed heroes. For example, Linus Torvalds or Richard Stallman. It's unfortunate that our society values Gates (the converted villain) more highly than Torvalds or Stallman (the hero from the beginning). Or values Jobs more than Wozniak.


> We also have people who were heroes and stayed heroes. For example, Linus Torvalds or Richard Stallman. It's unfortunate that our society values Gates (the converted villain) more highly than Torvalds or Stallman (the hero from the beginning).

I can really identify with this, but I also disagree.

We reward effort, and it takes a lot more to become good than staying good. In the same way that we reward a struggling child who in the end manages to climb an obstacle or finish a task, while not recognizing the other kid who has already done both 20 times with ease.

I will never claim I'm a better person than anyone else, but I definitely was a well behaved and quiet kid, and I remember seeing this a lot as a kid, at which time I too wanted praise for my behavior when some frankly shitty kids got it for occasionally not being jerks to the other kids.

But kids (and many grownups) aren't rational. I don't think kid me was right. I think I wouldn't have grown as much, and I think my values would've been a lot worse had I been constantly rewarded for something that came naturally to me.

But perhaps it is different with grownups where we don't (or shouldn't) have the expectation of shaping them. It's probably not shocking that I've always valued Wozniak more.


> We reward effort

I don't think so. Capitalism (or human society in general) isn't really consistent in rewarding anything, and as a consequence, it is not automatically moral. (Despite many people, for instance libertarians, making lot of contortions to make it appear moral.)


You're looking for consistency in the wrong place. Capitalism is very consistent - it rewards whatever gives you money. This makes it amoral, because morality barely enters the equation (it's in the equation by proxy of what people will pay you for, and by proxy of the legal environment under which you operate).

RE effort - yeah, capitalism usually doesn't reward effort, because effort alone does not bring money (unless they literally pay you to see you sweat). In our circles, we know it through clichés like "it's null until you ship it", or "ideas are worthless, execution matters", etc.


My view on this is a little bit different. Linux Torvalds and Richard Stallman are not willing to turn to degenerate practices for profit. People like Steve Jobs are.

However, most people are impressed by casual impressions and simply don't research someone they admire. I held Steve Jobs in high regard, until I read his biography. Charismatic people with money are able to impress the general public easily.

So it's not necessarily that people value Jobs more than Wozniak, but that many people are easily impressed by superficialities, and do not take the time to know more about people that they like.


While I agree with your sentiment, it is worthwhile to point out that Linus is a villain (or at least not a shining hero) in the eyes of a lot of people because of the behavior he displays on mailing lists.


It's not that our society values villains - especially not converted villains. Nobody is throwing money at Gates because he changed.

It's just being a villain makes it easier for you to play the market game and get rich. Part of being a hero is really just refusing to engage in things that'll bring you money. In the end, it's more likely that a villain through his villaining will get rich, so when they convert, they're left with resources to do good with, unlike our heroes who never got rich in the first place.


I disagree with you and the title. Bill Gates was a hero since the beginning for bringing the world high quality and actually usable software, the likes of which had not been seen before.

Linus Torvalds has always been an asshole both personally and professionally and he is actually a colossal impediment to having good software on Linux.

Stallman has also always been a major asshole who has a huge ego, who preaches to people like he's better than them and who introduced the worlds shittiest software license which the great majority of people pretty much avoid like the plague if they are aware of it.


> he did what he had to in order to see his company thrive

I'm thinking you perhaps weren't aware of some of Microsoft's activities. Embrace, extend, extinguish? AARD Code? Scalability day? SCO vs IBM? Comparing TCO of linux v Windows using an IBM mainframe available for Linux?

Heck I've forgotten most of them as there were so many.


One of the early blatant examples - when they've killed their competitor (DR-DOS) by altering Windows 3.1 to work in MS-DOS only.


"Business is business"

B.S.

A large reason for the success of Britain, America and the west was Protestant morality. Because one could reasonably expect fair dealing when conducting business with someone, even a stranger, there was no hesitancy conducting business rather than doing everything yourself or with your family.

The West was built on handshake deals. We've lost that, which is one reason for the rise of large firms and the rise of bureaucracy, rules & regulation.


The slave trade, colonial empires, tobacco, opium, and the extirpation of indigenous peoples for their land each seem a bit at odds with my concept of fair dealing and morality. On the other hand Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius is consistent with the theological premise of Predestination in Calvinist theology. So I agree in part.


It's at odds with my concept of fair dealing and morality too. But not incompatible with their concept, since unlike us, they didn't believe those concepts applied to non-Christians.


While I don't like Microsoft, I think Bill Gates is an extremely smart and well-meaning guy.

In public opinion, it is far more important how charismatic you are. IMO Steve Jobs was a terrible person, and this can be seen from his actions in both his decisions in his personal as well as his professional life. However, people worship him as a god because he fits the stereotype of charismatic leader better.

Apparently, people need that.


A lot of the comments are setting up a dichotomy that BG giving away money makes him good, and not giving it away is bad. Really, if you get to the level of wealth that BG has, giving away money is really the only thing that makes sense. It's a way of making your mark on the world even more than you already have. Unfortunately, the way you give away your money can have negative as well as positive effects. Though a lot of what BG does is great or fine, other interventions, especially in education where he was involved with the Common Core, have arguably been a net nagative. Really, billionaires giving away money is, at bottom, another way they exercise power. It should be viewed in that light, not as an unalloyed good.


Whether you are a hero or villain is more a matter of perception and whom you ask. In the past Microsoft under Bill Gates did many things which people considered as evil and damaging, and some were even illegal and they were convicted for it.

Now, instead of doing more businees or investing in new technologies to better the world, like Elon Musk for example, Bill Gates invests his money and time into wellfare-projects. This of course give the impression that he wanna cleans himself from the past sins. Whether it's true is a different case, but the impression is simply there.


> investing in new technologies to better the world, like Elon Musk for example

But the thing is, Gates is like Musk, he's investing in new technologies too. The two of them have different priorities, though. Musk is focusing on ensuring humanity's long-term survival, Gates is focusing on saving lives and reducing suffering now. They're much more alike than it would seem if you classify them as "Musk - tech, Gates - welfare".


Yes, but Gates is focusing on developments that delivers instant fame, with things which seems to be outside his original expertise. And he even is using his name for it, instead of supporting it anonymous. This support the impression that he is doing this things for fame, less for the result.


> Now, instead of doing more businees or investing in new technologies to better the world, like Elon Musk for example, Bill Gates invests his money and time into wellfare-projects.

I would suggest that the Gates Foundation is doing more to better the world than Musk.


> Business is business, he did what he had to in order to see his company thrive.

Do you believe in ethics?


Business and ethics are like fire and water. One kills the other. Not that I like it that way, it's just reality.


Morality is not a zero sum game, where evil is cancelled out by good. Just because it is criticism, doesn't make it a "cheap shot" nor is someone's opinion invalid because they're not millionaires.


No. Fuck that. He is a thief, plain and simple.


But he is a villain trying to buy his way into heaven and I'm not willing to give Bill Gates the "Machiavellian" benefit of the doubt and say that his means justified his end achievements.

Furthermore, I'm really disliking this narrative of "billionaire-turned-good" cause now he feels bad for some reason. This is the same thing Donald Trump is doing, so if you don't like it when he does it, why do you like it when Bill Gates does it? Because Bill has a cool reading list? So now you have Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, the Koch brothers, etc etc, all trying to buy a final "positive" public image and leave the world in everyone's good graces after consistently fucking over lots of people over for the majority of their wealth soaked lives.

I'm not buying it.


The mistake is in assuming that it's "cause now he feels bad for some reason". I seriously doubt Bill Gates does what he does to atone for anything (and he definitely doesn't try to play that narrative). Maybe he found conscience, maybe he just removed himself from the making-money environment - but right now, he looks like a guy with lots of money and heart in the right place, trying to make as effective use of that money as possible to make the world a better place.


This comment is spot on:

> I was a sysadmin through the tail end of the Microsoft desktop dominance. I'm glad that MS acted that way. It forever cemented in the minds of IT the danger of single vendor lock-in. [...] MS's bad behavior in the 90s and early 2000's bought us 50 to 100 years of lessons on what we need to avoid in the technology space.


I think he's very optimistic about the collective memory of tech people.

I don't know enough about sysadmin work but programmers reinvent the same techniques every 10 years.


And yet people are still all too willing to throw all their eggs into one basket, with Apple or Google.


In my anecdotal experience, consumers yes, businesses less so.


Large businesses maybe; small and medium ones are more like consumers in this regard.


Not my experience at all, businesses select Either AWS, Azure or Google cloud, today.

Previously it was .NET/IIS or Java with vendor app server.


And businesses with Amazon.


Ah yes, not mentioned in that narrative is a personal experience that happened twice in the 90's. I used a couple of tools to help fix software on PC's. MS bought them and took them off the market.


It's hard to describe the ruthlessness of Microsoft in the 80s and 90's and how ruthlessly Gates ran the company. Bill Gates was 'Gordon Gekko' of technology. He was an angry office bully and nightmare boss (he admits this himself).

Gates didn't run Microsoft as a technology company. Technological merit was very low in the decision making. It was all about "Embrace, extend, and extinguish" (phrase used by U.S. Department of Justice to describe Microsoft). MS threw lawyers and dirty tactics against competitors. OEM's had to follow directions from MS. Only after Bill Gates resigned his position as a Chief Architect you started to see technological quality improve.

Software startups and VC companies in that era needed so called "Microsoft Strategy". What to do when MS shows interest? Immediate sell out or fight until death. If you demo them your product, they can make a copy. You can sue them, but they just throw in more lawyers, buy out your chief architects with millions. If the company wins the court battle years later it's too late. MS could afford to lose in the court and still win.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Embrace,_extend,_and_extinguis...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microsoft_litigation



Ironically, the evil businessman Bill Gates was always a nice guy. I had several business meetings with both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and they were on the opposite ends of the spectrum. I was on the same dais with Jobs at a conference and had a personal dinner with Bill in Tokyo. Steve was the biggest ahole on the planet while Bill was very personable.

So I am convinced that Bill's current good deeds are reflections of his inherent personality and not related to his business persona.

P.S. Sorry about the name-dropping.


I wouldn't say that all of Bill Gates' charity work necessarily grants him "hero" status:

https://www.alternet.org/education/how-bill-gates-and-his-bi...


Don’t think “villain” works - its just business. But I have forgiven years of dealing with crappy software as he has since saved so many lives


> Don’t think “villain” works - its just business.

The biggest trick capitalism ever played on us is all the horrible behaviors that are justified as "that's just how the system works".


Yeh I'm saddened by how easily "it's just business" seems to be used to justify all manners of behaviour from petty bullying to ruining lives, or destroying careers or companies.


Learn about his tactics before you voice useless opinions.


There are two things that I consider important to keep in mind when discussing this kind of stuff: the issues with celebrity culture, probably best captured in "celebrity is not harmless fun – it’s the lieutenant of exploitation" by George Monbiot, and (criticisms of) Great Man theory and how that highlights the importance of distinguishing the individual from the structural[0][1].

From Monbiot's writing:

> Corporation means body; capital means head. But corporate capital has neither head nor body. It is hard for people to attach themselves to a homogenised franchise, owned by a hedge fund whose corporate identity consists of a filing cabinet in Panama City. So the machine needs a mask. It must wear the face of someone we see as often as we see our next-door neighbours. It is pointless to ask what Kim Kardashian does to earn her living; her role is to exist in our minds. By playing our virtual neighbour, she induces a click of recognition on behalf of whatever grey monolith sits behind her this week.

Of course, Bill Gates isn't just a nerd-celebrity, he was the actual boss of Microsoft, and as such has a big impact on its culture and vision and all of that. Nevertheless, equating Bill Gates with MS is akin to saying that I am my neocortex while ignoring every other part of my body. With giant companies like MS and Apple, neither Gates nor Jobs were the company. A lot of faceless people steer the whole thing.

Which brings us to Great Man theory:

> You must admit that the genesis of a great man depends on the long series of complex influences which has produced the race in which he appears, and the social state into which that race has slowly grown.... Before he can remake his society, his society must make him. —  Herbert Spencer, The Study of Sociology

"Bill Gates, head of evil Microsoft", did not happen in a vacuum. Microsoft and its people also enabled him.

Now, I'm not saying that Bill Gates should be excused for all the shit that MS did when he was in charge there, but using a person as the personification of a giant company is really "primal", appealing to our tribal instincts. I actually do not think that this is bad! Creating complex social structures by repurposing old instincts is an efficient tactic, since it literally comes naturally to us. However, the risk is that we may not be aware of it. This can make a difference between us using our instincts to our benefits, or being exploited through them.

It is important to become aware that individual and structural processes are linked and influence each other greatly, but that they not the same thing. The importance of this can be seen in modern discussions of racism or sexism: people often get defensive because they feel personally attacked when structural problems are raised, because they do not see the distinction.

So on this topic: I am much more interested in the structural problems of MS, Apple and the tech industry in general. Debating whether Bill Gates is a villain or a hero is less interesting than looking at what his impact on all of this was, what to learn from that, and what can be done to address current structural issues.

[0] http://www.monbiot.com/2016/12/22/imaginary-friends-2/

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_man_theory




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