It has become more likely that our grandchildren will not think of computers when they hear the name Bill Gates.
When the Microsoft founder was interviewed by the “Today Show” in 1992, he predicted we would one day communicate through desktop computers using something called “electronic mail.” This morning, on the same program, Gates, mostly retired from his high tech pioneering, was just as excited about the achievements a foundation he and wife established to attack global health concerns. In one amazing example, India has now gone two full years without a single new case of polio.
If only some other American moguls used their fortunes to improve the health of our children or even our politics. More below the doodle.
Read that sentence again about what the Gates Foundation has helped achieve: India has now gone two full years without a single new case of polio. Gates put one of the world’s largest fortunes to work helping a Third World nation eradicate a disease that infected 350,000 people a quarter century ago and just 200 people last year. If he had to design his tombstone today, it is fair to argue it would be lead the reader to think about millions of vaccines rather than millions of software CD's.
It has been said that heavy concentrations of money and power will expose your true character. That says a great deal about the millionaires and billionaires around us who have used their money and power in ways that make them characters more deserving of epithets than rosy epitaphs.
Others are more qualified than me to crunch the numbers and tell us how many fewer children would get sick if the Koch Brothers used $250 million to promote vaccinations instead of spending it as they did on contributions to politicians who enriched their oil empire.
Closer to home, the Bradley Foundation spent $350 million during the previous decade to bankroll the voices of fringe thinking that put today’s tea party politicians in power. Untold numbers of abortions could have been prevented had such sums been put to work in comprehensive health education, contraception and affordable health care for young women and men instead of trying to put government inside every exam room, bedroom and uterus.
When looking at the $700 million spent by the Walton Family Foundation between 2005 and 2010 to attack and dismantle public education, it is impossible not to think such a legacy for the late John Walton would be better replaced with language like, “he spent $700 million on neighborhood public schools and played a significant role in the graduation rates, test scores and first-job incomes of countless young Americans who no longer have to depend on the charity of unelected profiteers for their education.” (Instead, an estimated 80 percent of WalMart workers are paid so poorly they qualify for food stamps.)
Of course, fantasizing about how tycoons could be benevolent instead of malignant to societal improvement always invites critical reminders that everyone has a right to spend their money as they see fit, no matter how much or how little. This is true, the goodness or badness of philanthropy is in the eye of the benefactor. However, today’s reminder of what Bill and Melinda Gates did with their dollars should serve as a message to all who don’t just put a value on money but on how it can create a legacy long after we’ve gone to some ethereal reward.
I would rather my legacy be that I bought some vaccines instead of some politicians.