I think there are two important facts to keep in perspective here.
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.
"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%."
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%
I think when you provide people with absolutely no context like this, you're bound to get stupid answers. I feel like if you instead gave a list of things the government should do and asked people to allocate money to each, you would at least get answers that are sane, if not accurate.
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.
I think it's more of a matter of disinformation; if US citizens are radically disinformed, that's another barrier to participating in allocating our budgets. The system obviously favors decisionmaking by wealthy elites.
(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)
> 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
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 largest share of aid money is not used for treatments or activities in field - in other words does not arrive with those in need. It disappears by wasteful use of resources, massive overheads, corruption and inefficiencies of the participants along the road the money travels from donors to e.g. AIDS patients in country.
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.
I think Bill does try to make sure all his money is well spent though. His foundation doesn't throw money at a problem. They come up with a strategy first for a given problem and execute on that strategy.
Besides the money he had given to the apparatchiks and money wasters of the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB & Malaria (GFATM) where - as it became public latest last year - up to 2/3 disappeared with mismanagement, corruption and other abuse of funds (administrative fees not included) - I guess nobody is perfect
So if the top 400 wealthiest individuals in the US gave half their net worth to charity, they'd merely double the annual charitable giving of the rest of the United States? 
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.
It also matters how effectively the money is being used. The Gates Foundation tries to measure its effeciveness and reduce waste. I'm not so sure that other charities - many of them religious - are spending as effectively and making as much of a difference per dolllar.
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.
It looks like this is comparing the Gates Foundation's total charitable contribution in 2007 to the US's foreign aid budget for one year. Not to undermine Gates' massive contribution to humanity, but the title should say "gave away".
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.
the article is about how philanthropic bill gates has been (along with others), i think the US aid was just a tactic used to help put the amount in reference to something more easily understood than just a number. it seems poor taste to criticize his personal or professional history in light of the positive changes he's trying to affect. i think most people on HN are familiar with his competitive personality and the business practices of microsoft, and those have been discussed at length, but that isn't what this article is about.
You do realize Bill Gates isn't even at Microsoft anymore, right? This isn't about the company, but what he's done independently, after the fact. He could have simply sat on that money, or left it to all to his family. Instead, he chose to make a difference in the world at large, a noble cause in my book.
There's a strong case of dispute for this as well.
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 already knew of this. Gates may not be the CEO of Microsoft, but he has complete sway on what happens. He went from "King" to kingmaker.
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 US does a lot that I don't think is represented in that number. For instance, the military aid that we render to foreign nations in time of natural catastrophes is second to none, particularly in terms of expediency, logistics and supplies. Haiti is the first thing that comes to mind, but there's tons more examples like Fukushima, South-East Asia in 2004, Pakistan in 2005, Myanmar in 2008, etc.
I wonder if we'll see candlelit vigils and bunches of flowers outside MS stores when Bill Gates finally kicks it? He's long been the opposite of "cool" and certainly hasn't always been an honest competitor in the past but his altruism now should surely make up for that.
What is bad about trying to provide "drought-tolerant" seeds to Africa? It's not like GE seeds are gonna ruin Africa, they might very well help fight the hunger problem. I don't understand the general negativity against GE food - if it's tested well, I don't see any reason against it.
The problem with Monsanto is patents. If they didn't try to sue farmers that don't buy their GE seeds out of existence on unavoidable patent infringement claims (due to seed blowing into fields contaminating their non-GE crops), then fine, let them create whatever they want.
The documentary Food, Inc. (among others) has a segment about Monsanto's "business" practice, in particular seed saving for following year's planting. So the problem is not necessarily GM food but how they twist farmers arms through litigation. If software patents are bad, imagine patents over the constituents of life!
And not just seeds which are GM, but any seeds which might be contaminated by GM seeds. A major subtheme of the film was a long-time seed processor who would recover seed grain from farmers' crops. He was hounded out of business by Monsanto, despite the fact that his clients were not Monsanto farmers, because they might be recovering GM seed by virtue of his services.
Genetically engineered seed is sterile and patented. So the first hit is free, but you as a farmer is stuck buying seed for eternity. Handing out GMO seed is like giving Gilette razors to poor people.
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.
>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.
>Genetically engineered seed is sterile and patented.
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)
actually there is, because when traditional crops are wholesale abandoned, the seed stock, and unique local climate adapted varieties disappear forever, leaving them dependent on GMO corps to get any kind of return at all.
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.
The title here is misleading. According to the graphic, Bill and Melinda Gates' net worth, $59 billion, is $2 billion more than the US budget for foreign aid. They have given away $28 billion, 48% of their net worth.
Including Rockefeller and Carnegie in that graphic is poor choice if you ask me. True they gave a lot of their money away... but mostly to their own causes.When it came to their own workers they were more willing to give money to thugs who killed them than giving them equitable wages and working conditions.
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.
Providing capital to fund productive and risky ventures undertaken by others is a valuable service.
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?
I'm not looking down on him, just saying he doesn't really belong in the same company as Bill Gates. There is a lot of Microsoft hate out there, which is partially deserved, but he still provided a needed and useful product/service that has revolutionized the PC industry. And then after doing that he turned around and gave most of it away. Much more praiseworthy than Buffet IMO.
I generally dislike Jobs and much of his attitude, but this is an unfair statement. Just because he didn't make any donations public it does not mean he didn't make any, we have no idea what, if anything, he donated.
Why should someone have to give away their money if they are rich? Sure, it is a good thing to do, but they may have worked hard so that their family will be ok when they have died. People should be able to choose what they want to do with their money without self-righteous people judging them for their decision.
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 don't believe there should ever be a law forcing this, but I would certainly judge anyone who gets that rich and didn't give anything away (if I knew they didn't, instead of just guessing).
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.
I understand what you're saying. I would like it if everyone who died rich donated money to charity. But I also think that if someone has worked hard to earn that money they have the right to do with it as they wish, without judgement.
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 agree that someone has the right to do as they wish with their money, but that doesn't mean that be exercisingthat right they are doing the right thing. Equally I'm very aware that people could look at me and judge me for not giving more to charity - I judge myself, but ultimately I know that while I'm not selfish enough to give nothing, I am selfish enough to not let charitable donations change my standard of living.
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.
>I agree that someone has the right to do as they wish with their money, but that doesn't mean that be exercisingthat right they are doing the right thing.
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.
Most of the founding fathers had a huge problem with inherited wealth. Indeed, the "sanctity of inheritance" is a fairly recent concept. The historical view of Anglo-American law has been that property rights cease to exist at death, and that inheritance is a mere courtesy provided by the state: http://odur.let.rug.nl/~usa/P/tj3/writings/brf/jefl81.htm.
there is definitely a a line to be drawn. leaving your family $1bn should suffice for any family of any size, for many generations, for all imaginable purposes.
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.
Bill Gates kept $60 billion in stock and wrote a $30 billion check in public. Lives in a $150 million mansion.
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.
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.
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."
As others have pointed out, neither of your contentions is supported by anything linked or in your comment.
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.
If you apply Gauss' Law and define a boundary around US for money, you can argue that it's not Gates' money that's leaving the country, its the money that people gave to him, i.e. it's still US originated money.
I think it comes down to where the United States chooses to spend its money. I'm not saying the country should feel obligated to be caretakers of the world, but your defense budget is objectively out of control. There are a number of more worthy on which some of that money could be spent.
Bill Gates is required by law to give away 5% of equity in his foundation every year otherwise he would lose charitable tax-exempt status from IRS... so yes, he gave away billions but at the same he avoided to pay billions in taxes to government by funneling most of his wealth into his foundation.
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.
If Bill wants to give away billions to good causes and as a side effect he gets charitable tax-exempt status then I'm more than happy with that. His money is being far better spent than his tax dollars.