Stephen Speicher

First Gates -- Now Buffett is giving away his fortune

72 posts in this topic

Family, clan, tribe. Did you coin the term "familial fascism"? It does catch the flavor of what I see happening and I thank you for sharing the (astute) observation. I've been hearing the term "reprimitivation" lately, to describe what is happening in places like Somalia. I'm not sure if they are talking about atavism, but that is what I've been calling it. Would you say that familial fascism is a form of atavism?

I knew that the term "giving back" was the evil spawn of collectivism -- hence the "to society" part of that phrase, but the information and reasoning offered is valuable to me. Thanks to each of you who responded to my question.

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I agree. I suspect that they don't know this, or they think that it isn't politically feasable short term.

Given the scope of the organization and the very likely extremely vast context of scientific knowledge of Gates and others working for the organization, It is virtually impossible that they don't know about DDT.

If their goal is ending malaria in Africa and using DDT is not politically feasible, then they should put their money in making it politically feasible. If the boat you are in is sinking because of a hole, would you keep pouring out water or would you repair the hole?

As for the morality of Gates' actions, his explicit reason is altruism. His actions are altruistic. Judge for yourself whether such altruistic actions are moral or immoral.

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Given the scope of the organization and the very likely extremely vast context of scientific knowledge of Gates and others working for the organization, it is virtually impossible that they don't know about DDT.

I don't know how widespread this knowledge is but you're probably right.
If their goal is ending malaria in Africa and using DDT is not politically feasible, then they should put their money in making it politically feasible. If the boat you are in is sinking because of a hole, would you keep pouring out water or would you repair the hole?
We're back to the urgent / long term issue. To fight the political issue would take many, many years, and may very well not be succesful. To provide medicines is easy, cheap, and has an immediate impact. They have shied away from politically difficult issues.

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We're back to the urgent / long term issue. To fight the political issue would take many, many years, and may very well not be succesful.

Are you explicitly aware that with that one sentence you have casually dismissed all efforts at intellectual activism? If better ideas do not lead to a better culture, including better governments, then ideas are pointless. Since that is false, check your premises.

To provide medicines is easy, cheap, and has an immediate impact.

It seems ironic to quote the Bible here but this aphorism jumps to mind: Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he'll eat for a lifetime. And that is assuming the false idea that it's better to dump $70 billion down the drain in the worst cesspools on earth than to use it to fund additional business ventures or long range intellectual activism in America.

Here's an interesting thought: How could an actual Objectivist spend $70 billion to further promote Objectivism? I don't know about anybody else, but I figure that much capital applied to that purpose in ways that I can envision would push ahead an Objectivist culture in America by centuries - with a payoff that would make $70 billion look like the pennies in a cookie jar.

They have shied away from politically difficult issues.

That is hardly it at all. Gates and Buffett are carrying out deeply held and unchecked philosophic premises - chiefly the morality of altruism, but also a profoundly second-handed desire to try to buy public approval after being on the receiving end of decades of slams for their wealth and success. They are in turn being followed (I guess that makes it third-handedness) by e.g. Larry Ellison of Oracle, currently trying to figure out how he'll rid himself of his money.

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What do you mean by "more valuable to us?" We are not a collective in regard to value; you are free to value what you want, and I am free to value what I want. If I place a greater value on an American life than the life of an African, on what basis do you assert that is tribalism? Is all life of equal value? I value the life of my wife more than the life of my neighbor, and my neighbor more than the life of a stranger. And the potential value of that stranger is greater to me if I know that he was raised in the culture of the United States than in the culture of Africa. I am not an egalitarian; I discriminate in what I value.

Because at this point I have not received any convincing explanation of why a random American child should objectively more valuable to anyone than a random African child.

You are not convinced that the American culture is far superior to and more valuable than the African culture? And why don't I see the richness of Africa reaching out to aid the needy of the United States? Is it just coincidence that the philantropy goes just one way, from America to Africa and not the other way around? I grant more potential value to any random stranger, child or adult, chosen from the United States, than I grant to any stranger from that primitive jungle that is Africa. It is the ideas of a culture that either enhance or deter the human spirit from reaching achievement, and that spirit and achievement continue to flourish in my culture, but not in Africa. As I said, I am not an egalitarian; I discriminate in what I value.

I don't think this reasoning applies to a child who doesn't have a coherent value system, if any.

I am speaking of the potential value of this child to me, and the child raised in the African culture has much less potential value to me than a child raised in my culture. Such is the devastating effect of a primitive culture. Which, incidentally, is why the best "aid" that can be given to these primitive cultures is to change their ideas and the world that they live in. One healthy dose of freedom and capitalism will do a lot more than saving the lives of children doomed to grow up in a primitive culture.

The point I was trying to make is that with the same amounts, they can save a much larger number of people in Africa than in the US.

Yes, you have made this point repeatedly and, frankly, I do not care to ever read it again. Judging by sheer numbers is quite egalitarian, treating all life as being inherently equal and the hell with actual value judgments.

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Are you explicitly aware that with that one sentence you have casually dismissed all efforts at intellectual activism? If better ideas do not lead to a better culture, including better governments, then ideas are pointless. Since that is false, check your premises.

Of course not. I have never said that long term effort are useless. I have only said that they don't solve the current urgent needs, which is what the Gates Foundation seems to be focusing on, based on their actions.
It seems ironic to quote the Bible here but this aphorism jumps to mind: Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he'll eat for a lifetime.
Yes, but if he's in imminent danger of starvation, a 5-week course on fishing techniques will do him no good - he needs immediate help to ensure his sustenance.
And that is assuming the false idea that it's better to dump $70 billion down the drain in the worst cesspools on earth than to use it to fund additional business ventures or long range intellectual activism in America.
I completely agree - this is why the most admirable super-rich person I can think of is jeff Bezos, who's using some of his wealth to start Blue Origin.
Here's an interesting thought: How could an actual Objectivist spend $70 billion to further promote Objectivism?
I'd love to see a discussion on this. I can start a thread.

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----

To fight the political issue would take many, many years, and may very well not be succesful. To provide medicines is easy, cheap, and has an immediate impact. -----

Yes. It makes people dependent upon others and less likely to fight for what they really need: freedom and independence.

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Yes. It makes people dependent upon others and less likely to fight for what they really need: freedom and independence.

Let's say I provide a medicine -- such as a polio vaccine -- to a child. Are you saying that I have made the child dependent on me?

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Let's say I provide a medicine -- such as a polio vaccine -- to a child. Are you saying that I have made the child dependent on me?

I'm not speaking for Paul, but I have an opinion here. It's not that benefitting another makes them dependent on you; it's that doing for them what they could (and should) do for themselves makes them dependent on you. A better analogy for primitive countries would be welfare-leeches who receive vaccines from you. They, unlike kids, most likely have every ability to advance in society and pay for their medicine, but their philosophy (or lackthereof) prevents them from doing so. In such a case, giving them the medicine just furthers their mentality of dependence and ends up harming them more.

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It's not that benefitting another makes them dependent on you; it's that doing for them what they could (and should) do for themselves makes them dependent on you.

What do you mean by "dependent"?

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Let's say I provide a medicine -- such as a polio vaccine -- to a child. Are you saying that I have made the child dependent on me?

No. However, if a child is living in a society that expropriates the small amount of wealth that the parents are able to generate for survival (such as what happens in many countries of Africa), then providing medical help to the child helps in the short run but makes her dependent upon you for her survival. What is the child to do next month or year when she needs another vaccine? If saving the child (and others in the society where she lives) is one's goal, it is a better use of one's resources to try to change the government in that country to one that respects freedom and rights.

On July 19, 2000, the Export-Import Bank of the United States offered $1 billion per year for five years in loans to Sub-Saharan Africa to finance the purchase of U.S. HIV/AIDS medications and related equipment and services from U.S. pharmaceutical firms. However, three southern African countries, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe rejected the offer because the loans would further the dependency and debt of African countries, while American pharmaceutical corporations would benefit.

Apparently African governments believe that trading for goods makes them dependent, whereas outright donations doesn't. Who wins in this case? Clearly, the governments who sponsor keeping their people poor.

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A large part of the Gates Foundation is geared towards alleviating the consequences of poverty short term. Bringing Capitalism to Africa is a long term project. It will do nothing to help the thousands who will die of malaria this year or next, which is precisely what the gates Foundation is working on (at least for a large portion of their funds). They largely work on the symptoms rather than the disease, but this PR only address the disease question.

You speak of spending money on Africans short-term as if it integrates with the long-term goal of seeing Africa embrace capitalism. But won't these handouts prop up African dictatorships, thus prolonging them? When it comes to a dictatorship that plunders its citizens, isn't the best policy to close it off and wait for it to collapse, all the while proudly proclaiming to the world the values that make prosperity possible? Maybe there wouldn't be as many suffering Africans that need immediate aid if people would stop propping up the dictatorships that are causing the poverty to begin with.

Galt did not include as part of his strike short-term charity to the poor. He just shrugged.

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What do you mean by "dependent"?

I’d define it as a situation in which you need an unbalanced trade with another in order to exist; i.e., you require that someone be altruistic (or just vulnerable to theft) in order to live. Of course, I'm leaving out the examples where one is justifiably dependent, such as due to young age or disability.

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You speak of spending money on Africans short-term as if it integrates with the long-term goal of seeing Africa embrace capitalism.
No - I don't think that the Gates Foundation has the right long term vision. I think that they have the wrong philosophy and therefore a short-term, pragmatic focus (even their long-term efforts such as medical research have a short-term focus). There is an argument to be made that a healthy population is more likely to be productive and progress towards Capitalism than an unhealthy one, but I am not sure this generalization is true or that it would apply to the case of Africa.

But won't these handouts prop up African dictatorships, thus prolonging them?
It depends on the hand-outs. I don't think vaccinating children would prop up governments. On the other hand, sending large quanities of food and supplies to be distributed by local governments would be nearly a direct subsidy and therefore hugely destructive.

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No - I don't think that the Gates Foundation has the right long term vision. I think that they have the wrong philosophy and therefore a short-term, pragmatic focus (even their long-term efforts such as medical research have a short-term focus). There is an argument to be made that a healthy population is more likely to be productive and progress towards Capitalism than an unhealthy one, but I am not sure this generalization is true or that it would apply to the case of Africa.

It depends on the hand-outs. I don't think vaccinating children would prop up governments. On the other hand, sending large quanities of food and supplies to be distributed by local governments would be nearly a direct subsidy and therefore hugely destructive.

When people's basic needs start being met they are less likely to want to change their government. In fact, they would become fearful of change, as that would jeopardize the getting of hand-outs.

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I’d define it [dependency] as a situation in which you need an unbalanced trade with another in order to exist; i.e., you require that someone be altruistic (or just vulnerable to theft) in order to live. Of course, I'm leaving out the examples where one is justifiably dependent, such as due to young age or disability.

[My interpolation in square brackets]

I don't understand your definition. You define it as an "unbalanced trade with another in order to exist" -- and then you exclude examples of the very thing being defined, dependency, because they are "justified."

The issue I am trying to raise is not "justifiable" dependency vs. "unjustifiable" dependency, but what is the nature of dependency.

I do not have a formal philosophical definition of dependency. I do think your definition is pointing in the right direction. In the sense of the term/idea used in this topic, a dependent -- whether an infant, an adult quadriplegic, or an imprisoned murderer -- is someone whose physical survival is sustained by someone else and cannot compensate the giver in kind. Tentatively, I would label this as material dependency. The three examples I named might also be considered legal dependents too.

By contrast, if I were rich and I met a poor but admirable young person and offered to support him in all financial ways through eight years of his medical education, he would not be dependent on me -- not materially, because he could get a job; not legally, because he remains in charge of his own life, under the law; and, most importantly, not cognitively dependent.

That last point brings me to an important distinction. Ethically speaking, dependency vs. independence has nothing to do with receiving help from others, but has everything to do with exercising one's own judgment of the world. A person who is materially or legally dependent can still fully practice the virtue of independence.

There is no determinism in these matters. Receiving material aid does not cause cognitive dependency -- that is, does not cause an individual to abandon the judgment of his own mind. When the time comes to change one's world, it is cognitive independence that matters.

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Post #66, Burgess: I won't go into why, but thank you for that post. Thank you very much.

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Ayn Rand defines altruism as the principle "that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification of his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue, and value.''

In this sense I am strongly against altruism. However, I see nothing wrong in conscious benevolence - the personal decision to help people because you see value in doing so, you see value in them. You don't have to help, you choose to.

Bill Gates & Warren Buffett may or may not be using language that plays to the dogmatic altruistic vein. I don't know - I've only read some of what they've said in speeches pertaining to this recent donation (including Gates presentation of an early copy of 'The Wealth of Nations' to Warren Buffett). I have, however, had a good look at the various programs the Gates foundation's money is going into and whilst I disagree wilth some, and would have to be convinced of others the general strategy seems good to me: They are focusing on funding technological advances.

Intentionally, the advances they're pursuing disproportionately favour the poor and diseased in undeveloped parts of the world, but that's their perogative and I think it noble. They have admitted that if they tried to address the education and health problems of developing African nations their billions would just be a drop in the ocean and be of no guaranteed benefit (possibly worsening the situation if misused). In that respect solutions are very much in the hand of the people of those lands.

Now, I have no doubt at all that the members of this forum think that money could be used to much greater effect and I don't disagree with you. But it's their money and their businessmen - not philosophers - if their overarching strategy was to hand blank cheques to African despots I'd be shooting the venture out of the sky. But their not, they want to help and by focusing on technological initiatives they do so without causing any cultural or philosophical damage.

That doesn't mean I don't see a need for winning a cultural war against the undeveloped world - we certainly do, and it would be good to see Gates/Buffett putting some money into appropriate political/philosophical value orientated organizations (perhaps they are aside from this?).

(I'd be interested to hear a response - particularly if you are dead set against the Gates foundation - it's just I can't possibly imagine why?!)

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(I'd be interested to hear a response - particularly if you are dead set against the Gates foundation - it's just I can't possibly imagine why?!)

One might be dead set against the altruistic ideology that seems to motivate Bill Gates in this endeavor; but no rational person could be 'dead set against' the legal existence of the Gates Foundation as long as it remains a strictly private organization.

But, like many organizations with altruistic goals, if it is consistent about altruism, it will probably end up paying to support rights violations -- e.g. the well-funded employees of the Gates foundation could decide to get into the business of lobbying government(s) and/or funding government programs to institute altruistic goals by the force of law. This would follow logically, because Gates believes that his billions can hardly begin to solve the problems of poverty, ignorance, and disease -- so at some point it would only 'make sense' that others must be forced to contribute 'their share.'

And of course, it's true that poverty, ignorance, and disease cannot be minimized for any long-term period merely by means of direct material aid, without regard for ideas. Gates fails to see that supporting the right philosophy, Objectivism, is a far more urgent cause today than any other; and that he could do much more good by supporting it, than by offering direct material aid to the citizens of the poorest, the most ignorant, and the most disease-ridden nations, which are that way because of the ideas that dominate in those places.

The ironic thing is: If Gates was able to consistently apply his intelligence to every area of his life, like John Allison for instance, he probably could single-handedly come as close to insuring the bright future of the world as any one individual could possibly do. But he'd need to become an ardent student of Objectivism first, and he already (apparently) believes that he is familiar with Ayn Rand's philosophy, and has dismissed it based on the fact that it contradicts altruism, which he takes for granted as an unquestioned good.

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Intentionally, the advances they're pursuing disproportionately favour the poor and diseased in undeveloped parts of the world, but that's their perogative and I think it noble.

What do you mean by "noble"?

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What do you mean by "noble"?

I meant it in the sense that I think it a worthwhile cause. I think describing an act as 'Noble' connotates a generally undisputable sense of dignity. I would describe his actions here as noble as he goes out of his way to promote life in general through technological advancement, without getting too involved in the politics of it. I think apolitical (typically technological) actions that function to preserve life in general are pretty undisputably worthwhile. Arguably he has quite purposefully avoided the politics of it, probably - a) because he knows aid through government/direct contact with states is totally ineffective and :P he either doesn't have a solid political philosophy to spread, or he believes enough is being done to spread his already.

I appreciate it's not a word easily reclaimed from the cold dead fingers of altruism :D. If you can, please offer me a better defined philosophically compatible one.

I have to say with regards Africa's widespread socio-economic problems and bad government, that I think the natural pressure to tame government and develop mature institutions that comes from increased economic activity is being heavily stymied by the protectionist policies of much of the developed world. Europe in particular.

NB. I don't know the specifics of it, but the Gates foundation is also running a number of educational programs in the US. Building model schools as oppose to making general but minor improvements to them all. Interestingly he doesn't take business plans/requests for donations with regards his domestic educational agenda - implying he has some firm ideas about what to do/how to do it.

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