First, polls have shown that U.S. citizens drastically overestimate the amount of the federal budget allocated to foreign aid. As I recall, the average estimate is 25%; the reality is less than 0.1%.
The comparison holds mainly not because Bill Gates is so rich, or because the U.S. is indebted, but because federal budget priorities drastically favor items that are not foreign aid. Those priorities are formed in part because citizens believe that the budget is already giving away huge quantities of money, making proposals to increase foreign aid unpopular.
Second, the amount of money spent is not necessarily a good measure of the amount of aid given. On the one hand, sometimes more money doesn't help; to use an analogy that people here might understand, after a certain point in increasing your budget for paying software developers, you are limited by your ability to find good people, not by your ability to pay them. Likewise, some foreign aid projects - such as HIV eradication in certain African nations - have reached the point where the amount of monetary aid given already exceeds the capacity of local infrastructure to use the resources wisely, and any more would just sit in a bank account somewhere until someone blew it on a useless boondoggle.
On the other hand, some forms of aid or assistance given by the U.S. to friends or allies do not have monetary value, such as military assistance, diplomatic cover, or political advice... and there are material goods that are, for whatever reason, more valuable to the people who receive them than the items would be priced in the U.S. market where they were paid for.
So although this is a true and revealing fact, it's best to not misinterpret it. The reasons for the foreign aid budget being lower than Bill Gates's charity contributions are political, not fiscal; but it's likely that the more important question about foreign aid is the nature and quality of the aid, not the U.S. dollar value for which it was purchased.
That is very hard to believe. Why would anybody think that the government gives away a quarter of its budget? I would think that a guess would be based that on something reasonable. Like your own personal or family budget for instance. Who would (or could) give away a quarter of their family budget? Not many I'm guessing. I would expect guesses between 1 and 10 percent. Twenty five percent sounds like a polling error. Or a missed decimal place.
"Just based on what you know, please tell me your hunch about what percentage of the federal budget goes
to foreign aid. You can answer in fractions of percentage points as well as whole percentage points."
Results: Mean = 27%, Median = 25%
And my favorite part: "What do you think would be an appropriate percentage of the federal budget to go to foreign aid, if any?": Mean = 13%, Median = 10%
And honestly, knowing this kind of stuff is kind of irrelevant anyway. The whole reason we have a representative democracy is so that ordinary citizens can delegate the specifics of government to experts.
(Affording your own decent healthcare is enough of a feat in the US, that if you're wealthy enough to chip in for some of other people's healthcare too, people think you must be Batman or something.)
As for Bill Gates in particular, apparently one problem is his support for intellectual property, though his foundation. Many consider IP (particularly patents) a major problem for world health; and certainly the US knew better than to respect other countries' intellectual property, while it was developing. (To Charles Dickens' consternation.) (http://keionline.org/microsoft-timeline)
This is how dumb the American public is: http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2011/03/20/how-dumb-ar...
Maybe my disbelief is too strong.
But judging from the responses and the indications about average knowledge, I'm starting to wonder whether democracy in such an ignorant society is a good idea. P
Put another way, if 100 people can build a bridge in 3 months, that doesn't mean 1 million people can build a bridge in 13 minutes. Those of us who do science for a living are keenly aware that there's a sweet spot for sample size in any experiment. You want a sample size large enough to give you enough statistical power to validate your hypothesis (if it's true), but beyond that you're wasting money on more mice, or human subjects, or whatever.
For any problem, a certain amount of money / resources will optimize results.
The proliferation of such waste has by now reached levels that even former president Bill Clinton and Bill Gates independently in their speeches at the 2010 AIDS conference in Vienna called to focus on efficiency and for reducing excessive bureaucracy, meetings, trips and reports.
On top of that comes dramatic mismanagement and not too few cases of profiteering by those entrusted by the donors with distributing the funds.
You are right that since a few years military assistance e.a. are now also included within so-called Official Development Aid (ODA) budgets to make the overall amounts look better.
Currently large parts of that "business" are as opaque as the international drugs or arms trade. In general the whole thing is full of special interest groups from geo-politics to business to power to organized crime. As a result from US$1,000 tax payers' funds often only US$100-200 arrive with the (officially) intended use.
What really is needed in that "industry" is transparency, accountability, proper management and donors like Bill Gates that go to quite some efforts to assure that the monies actually arrive with those in need.
In other words, in four years, the United States in total will have donated more than the entire net worth of those 400 people -- net worths that typically took lifetimes and generations to amass.
If you ask me, that single factoid casts the Giving Pledge in an entirely new light. Yes, Gates and company have done some fantastic things with their charity . But the rest of the country is doing far more than they're getting credit for. Year after year. And as they aren't spending down their net fortunes, it's entirely sustainable.
That's something we don't hear nearly enough.
 Give or take some, as I'm sure those 400 people themselves likely contribute to that total.
Another thing that matters is long-term vision. Many charities try to spend on what is visible to help fundraising, while big private foundations can often invest in R&D and other high-risk high-reward projects.
The infographic plague continues. Surely the author could have gotten more up-to-date information about a 501(c)(3) than five year old data.
And still this company does what it was charged with. We see that with the 'secure computing' in regards to the locked down boot sequence for up and coming Windows ARM devices.
And I bet this "donation" Gates does also encourages Windows as a computing infrastructure.
Edit: why the karma backlash? Have I said something false or misleading? Also, we are not discussing US aid.
And major shareholder, holding 6.2% of total shares outstanding to an approximate market value of $13.2 billion (521 million shares):
The B&MGF have been highly active in education. And computers in education. Guess what OS they favor?
My understanding of much of the medical work done by the B&MGF is that there's been a focus on making patented prescription medicines available inexpensively (a social good), but preserving the strong IP protections on the patents themselves (again, an objective which favors Microsoft Corp's own interests in strong IP.
There is some confluence of interests.
Still, despite my very strong misgivings of Gates, Microsoft, and its business practices, he's made a huge impact on philanthropy and social causes. B&MGF absolutely dominates the field.
I guess the most damning things he has done recently, I have heard through trustworthy sources. The claim is that Gates foundation does indeed do good work, but they also greatly encourage their money to pay software licensing fees (read: MSWindows and MSOffice). Their form of greatly encouraging is very similar to their bulk rates that allow snooping their networks for compliance.
Be aware, I have no direct proof. I only have the word from a close friend who does work in 3rd world countries.
The Foundation has not given that money to charities, it has given some small percentage and invested the rest so that it can last forever.
I put gave in quotes because possibly both parties are not giving unconditionally, but rather purchasing either respect or obedience or something else.
2. Surely this doesn't count the billions the Federal Government gives in military aid.
That is evil.
I'm trying to remember the name of the seed harvester interviewed and for the life of me can't. The Food, Inc. website and a few searches haven't helped either.
You know what would help African farmers? Education about irrigation and scientific, low-moisture farming techniques. Provide non-hybrid seed and equipment than be used by locals to clean and store it.
The solution is never so simple. I could just as easily and correctly (ignoring all human implications) say "You know what would help African farmers? Move them somewhere more conducive to human life." Sounds awesome in theory, but consider the implementation details and effects on life of both options. You always have to make a trade off in practice between what is an "ideal" solution scientifically and what can actually be implemented given the real humans involved.
This is not accurate as a blanket statement. Not all genetically engineered seeds are sterile, only a limited subset (Monsanto only acquired the sterile technology in 2007 and I don't think they use it in all seeds)
The heroin analogy is idiotic. Nothing is stopping the farmers from switching back to conventional crops if they don't find GMO's more profitable then what they were doing before
This problem has already occurred in most western vegetable growing. Locally adapted varieties and varieties with certain commercially undesirable characteristics are lost forever, this has a massive negative impact on biodiversity, and thus food supply security.
And while I find it impressive what Warren Buffet has accomplished, I don't find it very productive for humanity. I'm not anti-capitalist, but the pure money makers who gather wealth without providing a service/product are not heroes in my book.
Everyone on HN recognizes the importance of angels and VCs in the ecosystem - what's so different about what Buffett does? What's so magical about an IPO that means, once it happens, no one who risks their own money on the venture should count as having contributed to its growth?
Making your money in stocks and shares isn't praiseworthy work at all, but I don't see how you can look down on someone who does that and gives so much of the profit to charity.
GiveWell (http://givewell.org) does in-depth reviews of charities and recommends the best ones, based on things like cost-effectiveness and transparency.
Giving What We Can (http://givingwhatwecan.org) is a place where you can make a similar pledge (like 10% of your income), and community to support people who have done so.
How much money have you given to charity?
Will you be leaving all of your money to charity when you die or will you leave it to your family?
I'm not against inheritance, I stand to do pretty well from it myself in the (hopefully not too-near) future, but there's different levels. In general I think anyone who can afford to ought to give to charity as often as possible (and again, I'm not talking selflessness, I can't preach living a budget life in order to give more to charity given that I chose to prioritise living well over giving to charity), but for the super rich, does giving your children $10b really help them more than giving them $5b?
Obviously the question is where's the line, do you leave your loved ones just enough to, say, buy a small house, do you leave them enough to never have to work again, do you leave them enough to never have to work again and be able to live like a millionaire, or... I don't know where the line would be for me, if I became super-rich (which I don't plan on or expect), and I don't know where I think the line should be for people like Jobs/Buffet/etc. All I know is that if they give it all away I feel sorry for their loved ones, and if they give none away I will consider them selfish.
edit: I'm aware that the above views might come across as confusing, I think I didn't word it particularly well but I can't think of a better way to put it. Hopefully it's understandable, if anyone suggests it isn't then I'll give it another shot.
If I got rich I think I would donate most of it to charity. I would only leave enough with family to take care of my children. I don't think children should be brought up wealthy/spoilt/privileged.
I don't think children should be brought up wealthy/spoilt/privileged.
Again the issue here is where to draw the line? Arguably there are plenty of people in countries like the US and UK who are on benefits and consider themself near the bottom of the ladder, but they are wealthy and privileged compared to people in other parts of the world living in famine.
Equally, leaving family with enough "to take care of" children makes them privileged/wealthy/spoilt in comparison to people not lucky enough to have a good inheritance.
I've grown up in the UK, pretty middle class, never having to worry about family money problems, and if I had no money of my own then when both my parents die, the combined money will be more than enough to buy a nice house. There's no way to look at it that other than to say I'm very lucky, I may not be able to retire right now, but I can become a houseowner without ever saving any money, and I'll probably never have to worry about debt or live paycheck to paycheck.
But at the same time, I'm talking six figures, not seven+, my father was a postman, and if I stood to inherit, say, twice as much as I actually do, I wouldn't think "right, 50% of it is instantly going to charity".
Essentially, any inheritence is giving whoever gets it an advantage over some, and (except for the single richest person in the world) a disadvantage over others. The question of how much is too much is incredibly subjective.
edit: In fact, I said I agree about it being a right. Actually, in a way I don't. I wish the entire world was based on communism, I really do. Sadly I can't imagine it could ever work, and as such I don't consider myself "a communist", nor will I ever in my life try to push for communism to happen anywhere. I say I can't imagine it, I mean it could never work, it's completely impossible. But I wish it was, even though I would personally be in a worse situation if I did live in a communist state.
When you make money legally and honorably as Jobs did, the "right thing" to do with your money is whatever you want to do with it. I think it's outrageous other people presume to tell the wealthy, especially the self-made wealthy, what they ought to do with their own assets.
But when the remaining money is made on the backs of people who struggle to feed their own families, i believe it's quite selfish not to give most of it back for the benefit of millions. It's not quite blood diamonds here, but a similar gist.
THIS would have been his best legacy and valid claim to actually transforming people's lives - not the materialistic vanity gadgets he sold to the rich.
Steve Jobs kept $7 billion in stock, wrote no public check anyone is aware of. Lived in an upscale but normal house and left the back door unlocked.
I guess the hero is the guy who wants his picture taken handing out turkeys on thanksgiving? I mean clearly Steve Jobs could have demanded $50 more billion from Apple and then given half of that away to be a great philanthopist but because he didn't he's a bad guy? I call shenanigans.
In other news, Bill Gates has created more wealth and productivity for people worldwide than any individual (or government) in the history of the world. This equates to better medicine, more fun vacations, better food, more time with family, longer lives, etc.
In spite of being attacked by government (antitrust lawsuits) Gates continues to try to tackle the world's toughest problems.
I do not think this is accurate or supported by the article.
For instance, while I respect Bill Gates tremendously, I suspect Isaac Newton contributed more to the current wealth of the Western Hemispher than Gates did, and Alexander Fleming (discovered penicilin amoungst other things) probably tops Newton in contributing to the overall well being of the world now, as just two examples from "the history of the world."
Gates' realizations about business could have actually been significantly more rare than Newtons' observations. I think it's important to at least consider this to be true.
I see nothing that recommends libertarianism here. In a libertarian world IBM does not license DOS out of antitrust fears and Bill Gates and Paul Allen do not win the associated $100 billion lottery.
The idea that Gates is the shining light that's allowed the world to have progress is even more laughable. The man was in the right place at the right time and milked his monopoly very successfully. That's been great for him and MS but in all likelihood has been to the detriment of the rest of the society.
He's giving back a lot now and that's commendable but let's not get carried away.
All the profit was eaten by entrepreneurs and finance. Wage-workers got very little, their wage growth rate actually decreased significantly since the computer revolution.
So the whole comparison between him and the government is pointless since it's the government that made it possible for Bill Gates to even do charity at this scale by sacrificing its own tax revenue.