Knowing that many of you have a similar sort of (cough) regard for Gates and other philanthrocapitalists (alternately called by the Wrong Kind of Green collective: the non-profit industrial complex) as mine, when I’d stumbled upon this more readable, searchable format of this work by Jacob Levich, it seemed that posting it as a PSA would be a good thing to do.
Levitch writes from NYC and taught at Stony Brook University; some of this may be from his thesis, iirc; but maybe his thesis was his ‘The Gates Foundation, Ebola, and Global Health Imperialism’ published in the American Journal of Economics and Sociology in 2015. No matter, but do remember that this in-depth exposé is from 2014, so Gates’ wealth numbers have changed a lot by now ($500 billion?).
Given that there are many of his papers lassoed into one here, I’ll only quote what feels enough from a few chapters to whet your appetite to read more. He said on March 13: that he’s working on a new chapter on ‘Pharmaceutical colonialism and the Gates Foundation’. From rupe-india.org, some background:
“You’re trying to find the places where the money will have the most leverage, how you can save the most lives for the dollar, so to speak,” Pelley remarked. “Right. And transform the societies,” Gates replied.1
“In 2009 the self-designated “Good Club” – a gathering of the world’s wealthiest people whose collective net worth then totaled some $125 billion – met behind closed doors in New York City to discuss a coordinated response to threats posed by the global financial crisis. Led by Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and David Rockefeller, the group resolved to find new ways of addressing sources of discontent in the developing world, in particular “overpopulation” and infectious diseases.2 The billionaires in attendance committed to massive spending in areas of interest to themselves, heedless of the priorities of national governments and existing aid organizations.3
Details of the secret summit were leaked to the press and hailed as a turning point for Big Philanthropy. Traditional bureaucratic foundations like Ford, Rockefeller, and Carnegie were said to be giving way to “philanthrocapitalism,” a muscular new approach to charity in which the presumed entrepreneurial skills of billionaires would be applied directly to the world’s most pressing challenges:
Today’s philanthrocapitalists see a world full of big problems that they, and perhaps only they, can and must put right. … Their philanthropy is “strategic,” “market conscious,” “impact oriented,” “knowledge based,” often “high engagement,” and always driven by the goal of maximizing the “leverage” of the donor’s money. … Philanthrocapitalists are increasingly trying to find ways of harnessing the profit motive to achieve social good.4
Wielding “huge power that could reshape nations according to their will,”5 billionaire donors would now openly embrace not only the market-based theory, but also the practices and organizational norms, of corporate capitalism. Yet the overall thrust of their charitable interventions would remain consistent with longstanding traditions of Big Philanthropy, as discussed below:
I: The World’s Largest Private Foundation
“Gates’ approach to charity is presumably rooted in his attitude toward democracy:
‘The closer you get to [Government] and see how the sausage is made, the more you go, oh my God! These guys don’t even actually know the budget. … The idea that all these people are going to vote and have an opinion about subjects that are increasingly complex – where what seems, you might think … the easy answer [is] not the real answer. It’s a very interesting problem. Do democracies faced with these current problems do these things well?’12
The Gates charitable empire is vast and growing. Within the US, BMGF focuses primarily on “education reform,” providing support for efforts to privatize public schools and subordinate teachers’ unions. Its much larger international divisions target the developing world and are geared toward infectious diseases, agricultural policy, reproductive health, and population control. In 2009 alone, BMGF spent more than $1.8 billion on global health projects.13
The Gates Foundation exercises power not only via its own spending, but more broadly through an elaborate network of “partner organizations” including non-profits, government agencies, and private corporations. As the third largest donor to the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO), it is a dominant player in the formation of global health policy.14 It orchestrates vast elaborate public-private partnerships – charitable salmagundis that tend to blur distinctions between states, which are at least theoretically accountable to citizens, and profit-seeking businesses that are accountable only to their shareholders. For example, a 2012 initiative aimed at combatting neglected tropical diseases listed among its affiliates USAID, the World Bank, the governments of Brazil, Bangladesh, UAE et al., and a consortium of 13 drug firms comprising the most notorious powers in Big Pharma, including Merck, GlaxoSmithKline, and Pfizer.15
“When those who have aggressively established and maintained monopolies in order to accumulate vast capital turn to charitable activities, we need not assume their motives are humanitarian.21 Indeed, on occasion these ‘philanthropists’ define their aims more bluntly as making the world safe for their kind. In a letter published on the Foundation’s website, Bill Gates invokes “the rich world’s enlightened self-interest” and warns that “[i]f societies can’t provide for people’s basic health, if they can’t feed and educate people, then their populations and problems will grow and the world will be a less stable place.”22
The pattern of such ‘philanthropic’ activities was set in the US about a century ago, when industrial barons such as Rockefeller and Carnegie set up the foundations that bear their names, to be followed in 1936 by Ford. As Joan Roelofs has argued,23 during the past century large-scale private philanthropy has played a critical worldwide role in ensuring the hegemony of neoliberal institutions while reinforcing the ideology of the Western ruling class. Interlocking networks of foundations, foundation-sponsored NGOs, and US government institutions like the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) – notorious as a “pass-through” for CIA funds – work hand-in-hand with imperialism, subverting people-friendly states and social movements by co-opting institutions deemed helpful to US global strategy. In extreme but not infrequent cases, foundations have actively collaborated in regime change ops managed by US intelligence.24
III.Gates and Big Pharma
“Guinea pigs for the drugmakers”
Despite annual revenues approaching $1 trillion, the global pharmaceutical industry has lately experienced a critical decline in the rate of profit, for which it lays most of the blame on regulatory requirements. A US think tank has estimated the cost of new drug development at $5.8 billion per drug, of which 90 per cent is incurred in Phase III clinical trials mandated by the US Food and Drug Administration and similar agencies in Europe.41 (These are tests administered to large groups of human subjects in order to confirm the effectiveness and monitor the side effects of new vaccines and other medicines.) The international business consulting firm McKinsey & Company called the situation “dramatic” and urged Big Pharma executives to “envision responses that go well beyond simply tinkering with the cost base” – primarily the relocation of clinical trials to emerging markets, where drug safety testing is seen as relatively cheap, speedy, and lax.42
It is in this specific context that BMGF’s intervention in the distribution of certain vaccines and contraceptives must be seen. Heavily invested in Big Pharma,43 the Foundation is well positioned to facilitate pharmaceutical R&D strategies tailored to the realities of the developing world, where “[t]o speed the translation of scientific discovery into implementable solutions, we seek better ways to evaluate and refine potential interventions—such as vaccine candidates—before they enter costly and time-consuming clinical trials.”44 In plain language, BMGF promises to assist Big Pharma in its efforts to circumvent Western regulatory regimes by sponsoring cut-rate drug trials in the periphery.”
IV. A Broader Agenda
“Behind BMGF’s coordinated interventions in pharmaceuticals, agriculture, population control, and other putatively philanthropic concerns lies a broader agenda. In a recent interview Bill Gates briefly strayed off-message to warn of “huge population growth in places where we don’t want it, like Yemen and Pakistan and parts of Africa.”77 His use of the majestic plural here is revealing: in spite of much rhetoric about “empowering poor people,” the Foundation is fundamentally concerned with reshaping societies in the context of ruling-class imperatives.
“In a 2010 public lecture, Bill Gates attributed global warming to “overpopulation” and touted zero population growth as a solution achievable “[i]f we do a really great job on new vaccines, health care, and reproductive health services.”94 The argument is disingenuous: As Gates certainly knows, the poor people who are the targets of his campaigns are responsible for no more than a tiny percentage of the environmental damage that underlies climate change. The economist Utsa Patnaik has demonstrated that when population figures are adjusted to account for actual per capita demand on resources, e.g., fossil fuels and food, the greatest “real population pressure” emanates not from India or Africa, but from the advanced countries.95 The Gates Foundation is well aware of this imbalance and works not to redress it but to preserve it – by blaming poverty not on imperialism but on unrestrained sexual reproduction “in places where we don’t want it.”
From Malthus to the present day, the myth of overpopulation has supplied reliable ideological cover for the ruling class as it appropriates ever greater shares of the people’s labor and the planet’s wealth. As argued in Aspects No. 55, “Malthus’s heirs continue to wish us to believe that people are responsible for their own misery; that there is simply not enough to go around; and to ameliorate that state of wretchedness we must not attempt to alter the ownership of social wealth and redistribute the social product, but instead focus on reducing the number of people.”96 In recent years BMGF’s publicity apparatus, exploiting Western alarm about “climate change,” has helped create a resurgence of the overpopulation hysteria last experienced during the 1970s in the wake of Paul Erlich’s bestseller The Population Bomb.97”
My thanks go out to Jacob Levich.
Gates Foundation on Twitter
See also the Gates Foundation within ‘The terrifying implications of gene drives’, Café Babylon.
Bill Gates as the Bidness Buddha, although Anthony Freda wasn’t pinging him in particular, I’d suspect.