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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Rant: He Neither "Misses" nor "Hits" the "Point"

Bill Gates recently gave a speech (here is the video) for a kinder, gentler, more merciful form of Capitalism. One which would benefit the poorest two-thirds of our fellow man while still being profitable to businesses. There have been arguments for both Gates being right and Gates being wrong and even the skeptic that I am cannot help but agree that we need to do something about this horrible divide between those who have and those who have-not.

What could be better than the world's wealthiest man dedicating himself to the poorest people in the world? This is fantastic news!


Sadly, there is a huge difference between what Bill Gates says, and what Bill Gates does. There is an unfortunate truth that the top 2% (probably more) of the wealthiest people in the world have obtained their status at the expense (summary) of the rest of the population, rather than through some mutually beneficial methods. I really had hoped that this was an exception to that rule but no matter how much I denied it - the facts, which I outline below, confirm it:
Bill Gates neither misses, hits, nor cares about the point - his speech is merely the preamble for a corporate welfare application being prepared by Microsoft. He hasn't gone insane, this is just "Business as UsualTM".

In his speech Mr. Gates proclaims that "Companies should create businesses that focus on building products and services for the poor." as if oblivious to the incredible efforts during the last 3 years to provide those countries with modern educational tools! Efforts such as the Linux-based OLPC laptop project, which after becoming an object of Gates' ridicule, has been making progress in successfully providing the third world affordable computing and learning platforms posing a long-term threat to the Microsoft's Windows monopoly. How ironic, then, is the fact that educational tools and computers based on Windows are virtually non-existent in poor countries due to Microsoft's monopoly pricing and their lack of interest in those who cannot pay those prices? They have started focusing on products and businesses in these sectors very recently but only as a response to the competitive threat posed by Linux, OLPC, and others. Their recent efforts have included giving steep (and steeper) discounts on Windows licenses, attempting to develop a version for low-end hardware, and in more disturbing cases threatening and bribing smaller poor Governments to adopt their products. Microsoft's recent efforts are not about providing the bottom-third of our population modern learning tools, they are merely an extension of a classic business strategy that Microsoft has recently had to pursue for competitive reasons.

So now the million dollar question is: Why is Gates pushing for changes to our Capitalist system if there are already businesses and organizations making headway in providing the solutions for the 3rd world? Businesses doing exactly what he touts in his speech, albeit without Microsoft technology?

It is when Gates states that "...disburse funds to create financial incentives for businesses to improve the lives of the poor..." that I inevitably come to the conclusion that Gates isn't asking for a fundamental change to Capitalism. What he's asking for is a subsidy which will allow Microsoft to enjoy the types of profits it's used to while extending it's monopolistic tactics to a new, low-profit, market.

So as for Bill Gates' speech and all the hoopla surrounding it, I will write it off as Waggener Edstrom doing what they do best to earn their paycheque. They have elegantly crafted an argument which paints this whole effort as an off-the-cuff plan, supposedly written on a napkin during a flight, based on Bill Gates' mercy after witnessing the poverty in the African slum of Soweto. They have managed to wield our own emotions as if they were their own personal tool by using a combination of our pity for the poor and our wishful thinking to make it all but impossible to argue the point without coming off as an heartless cynic.

Well, this heartless cynic predicts that this campaign will be easily identifiable through the following:
  • the repeatition of this "creative capitalism" message (through Waggener Edstrom and Microsoft's channels of influence)
  • increasing focus on the creation of financial incentive programs from Governments and U.N. Agencies as the "right thing" to do
  • "creative capitalism" becoming the newest buzzword on the lips of every pointy-haired boss while being nothing more than a poorly-disguised euphemism for corporate welfare

With that in mind I'm really hoping we will be able to resist the inevitable call to action spawned from these suggestions for 3rd World "Technology Outreach" programs. It is obvious that these challenges are best left in the hands of organizations genuinely aiming to improve the situation as well as to businesses with sustainable business models for the 3rd world. The issue with profit-obsessed companies, such as but not limited to Microsoft, who are only seeking to extend their market rather than commit, with a dedicated mission and/or business model, to helping the world's neediest is that they will only do the absolute minimum to obtain approval (i.e. check-off the "ticky boxes") on whatever reports are required to obtain their subsidies. I have no doubt that this will be done without any regard as to whether, in reality, their efforts help those people or not. This is in stark contrast to non-profit organizations devoted to such causes which make sure that the help they provide is empathetic, real, and effective! It is also a slap in the face for businesses which have opted to use creativity in their business models, rather than subsidies, to solve those countries' problems and still turn a profit. Sure their profits are not as excessive as those demanded by monopolists, but they are sustainable.

While I am somewhat impressed with the sheer talent in the design and execution of such a PR campaign I anticipate becoming extremely frustrated having to watch the irony of this whole "creative capitalism" speech come to bear:
the world's poorest being used as an excuse to line the coffers of the world's richest!


rivierafred said...

I agree with the idea that what Bill Gates advocates is not all that it seems. It does not surprise me that he would be against OLPC simply because it contains no M$FT TAX. One thing that needs to be explained: How is Apple a Microsoft subsidiary? Apple has been gaining market share for the past two or three years, especially given the wariness towards Windows Vista. I remember several years ago when MSFT bought a few shares of Apple when Apple stock was in the tank. But that hardly makes Apple a subsidiary of Redmond. If they really were, why does OSX still exist? M$FT would simply ditch that for Vista and Windows Server 2003 on all Macs (and therefore eliminate what made them Macs in the first place).

Bake said...

I stated that Apple is "almost" a subsidiary by virtue that Microsoft owns the 5% of the company they bought in 1997 which obviously allows them to exert some minor influence regardless of whether they're voting board members or not.

I'll admit that this view is somewhat dated and that iPods would have been PlaysForS... compliant had Microsoft been able to influence anything worth mentioning at Apple.

Microsoft also does not appear anywhere in Apple's list of shareholders.

Since that's enough proof for me, I've stricken the comment from my post but if someone could provide a link to a source explaining where Microsoft's $150,000,000 in Apple shares went I would appreciate it greatly.


Anonymous said...

Apparently you're not the first to figure this out. However your article is much more polite and less cynical than this comment post on Groklaw!

Anonymous said...

i get it

... if this were a game of monopoly and bill owned almost everything while his opponents own the first row and a few other properties he's basically saying...

those poor properties... mediterranean, baltic, oriental, vermont, and connecticut avenue... we need to change the rules for monopoly so that these properties get some hotels... if only we could forget about minute details as who owns it and allow the first to build a big red hotel there to collect... and if only our banker here could offer some incentive to do so... like offering an up-front rebate on big red hotels to the first to ask for it... it would only have to apply to those squares... oh if only... (then whispering to the banker "can i have one now")?

somehow it's a lot less emotional and much clearer to see what's actually going on when it's monopoly

Alyson said...

This is great info to know.

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