A man whose name itself is a symbol of wealth, Bill Gates was once the richest person in the world (and still comes very close). He co-founded Microsoft in 1975, and has been a driving force in encouraging young thinkers to revolutionize the world ever since. Given his accomplishments, should Gates be seen as a role model or as just a rich entrepreneur on a power trip?
Here are three arguments showing how Gates is a role model to emulate, and three arguments suggesting that he’s just a flawed tycoon with deep pockets.
Gates is great
Created the world’s relationship with computers
Gates jumped into tech innovation before it was the cool thing to do. As difficult as it is to fathom, he is largely the reason that over 84% of Americans own personal computers today. Gates envisioned “a computer on every desk in every home” back in the 1980’s, and soon afterwards made that vision come to fruition through the creation of Microsoft. From the moment it was founded until now, Gates has ensured that Microsoft has continuously paved the way for technological innovation, revolutionizing the way we communicate, do business, work and play. Microsoft aside, Gates has a track record for spotting opportunity, like repeatedly encouraging and participating in various initiatives within scientific exploration.
Model of morals
You’d think a man who alone pockets more than the bottom 50% of America’s wealth might have let it get to his head, but Gates remains humble to the bone. Despite being a tech guru, he limits the use of technology in his home, in order to teach his children good values. He and his wife, Melinda, have emphasized that their children won’t be getting the vast majority of their wealth; on national television, Gates explained: “Well, our kids receive a great education and some money, but they will go out and have their own careers….[wealth] distorts anything they might do, and they need to find their own path.”
Most of Gates’s time is spent focused on giving, rather than on accumulating wealth. One of his greatest accomplishments to date is the creation of The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation charity, to which he recently donated $4.6 billion. The Foundation’s efforts are mainly in tackling global healthcare in both developing and first-world countries, although the richest charity in the world doesn’t discriminate when it comes to helping the needy.
Gates has also generously donated to a number of other initiatives dedicated to bettering the planet. He backed the Omniprocessor, a machine which converts human excrement into usable electricity and drinking water, with the goal of giving people around the world proper sanitation. His campaign The Youth Grand Challenges encourages teenagers and young adults to explore scientific innovation, while The Misk Grand Challenges tackle global development problems. Gates has a plan to change many aspects of the world – and he’s certainly putting his money where his mouth is.
Not that great
The dark side of giving
Because of his extensive donations to international projects, Gates has immense control over global health. His charitable Foundation contributes 10% of the World Health Organization’s total budget, putting himself in a place to wield undue influence on the organization’s policies. Any individual with that much influence over an entire sector is concerning, as he shapes everything from the conversation surrounding global health to the decisions on which diseases to allocate what resources. The Foundation also has a multitude of partnerships with companies in the private sector involved in global health governance. This creates huge conflicts of interest when it comes to policy-making. Gates isn’t a doctor nor practiced in medicine, yet his opinions on global health are the ones that decide its future.
Pot calling the kettle black
Gates publicly stands for several ideals that directly contradict his lifestyle. Joining a list of other prominent billionaires, he famously spoke out against capitalism, criticizing the lack of attention paid to the poor and scientific innovation by the wealthy. This can be construed as hypocritical on Gates’s part; while he and Melinda have pledged billions towards philanthropy, given that capitalism has given them their billions in the first place, it’s a bit difficult to crown him the champion of the socialist cause. No one is denying his charitable donations, but appointing himself the spokesperson of poverty and income inequality seems ironic at best.
Microsoft has been subject to criticism more than once. Many categorize the company as a monopoly (although there is some disagreement about this). While critique is inevitable for any public figure and his widely-used products, the level of backlash against Microsoft indicates there is something worth investigating. For example, Windows 10 – a compulsory upgrade for anyone with Windows 7 or 8 – caused many users’ computers to freeze and hard drives to crash, which turned into a class-action lawsuit against Microsoft for having negligently designed their product. Additionally, discrimination and sexual harassment complaints recently surfaced from within Microsoft, and the company was criticized for not responding properly. Tax evasion is no stranger to Microsoft either, shedding uncomfortable light on the company’s co-founder, who is supposedly the beacon of morals.
The Bottom Line: Bill Gates is a generous and ethical role model, but his innovation and charity come at a price. What do you think? When you see his picture, is your instinct to feel admiration or suspicion?