Misadventures of a Philanthropist

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Nearly four years after the quake, it remains impossible to sort out what philanthropic institutions have spent in Haiti and what the groups have kept for themselves. To visit Haiti today is to see how donations have evaporated. CBS News reported on that occasion that only half of all the donated money had found its way to Haiti. AIDS sufferers found themselves exiled to the impoverished Henan province, where they lived miserably in modern-day equivalents of leper colonies.

At least , inhabitants had contracted the disease by selling their blood to collection companies that extracted the plasma, paid cash in return, and violated all rules of proper hygiene. After the Chinese democratic activist Hu Jia pointed out publicly that the plasma firms had close ties with local Communist Party officials, he wound up imprisoned for three years. Local authorities gave him a warm welcome in the provincial capital, Zhengzhou, but they convinced him that visiting the contaminated villages would require a long and dangerous journey.

Chinese bureaucrats were convinced that the HIV virus could transmit through the air, which is partly why they confined the sick to villages, to which they banned visits. The villages were in reality only an hour from Zhengzhou, accessible by serviceable roads. Deferring to his hosts on the travel issue, however, Clinton let himself be photographed in front of a Zhengzhou dispensary, constructed especially for his visit. In , though, Wallace acknowledged that he had been duped by Stalinist propaganda.


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Can we expect a similar admission someday from Bill Clinton? A fter losing the presidential election, former vice president Al Gore was at a low point. Like his former boss, Gore would find a new life in philanthropy for show. He returned to an old cause—environmentalism, especially global warming, which at the time had not fully captured public awareness. In , Gore founded the Climate Reality Project, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting global warming. Aided by high-quality special effects, the film warns of the impending destruction of civilization from climate change, barring an immediate return to the age of windmills.

The film, distributed worldwide, won several major prizes, including an Academy Award for best documentary. Al Gore became a philanthropist-prophet. Using uncorroborated and misleading data, An Inconvenient Truth gets much wrong, as numerous critics have noted. Gore assumed an average global temperature increase of 18 degrees Fahrenheit by , for example, even though the International Panel on Climate Change, directed by Rajendra Pachauri corecipient, with Gore, of the Nobel Peace Prize , predicts an average increase of seven degrees under a worst-case scenario.

Gore predicted a ten-foot rise in sea level over the same period, which the film dramatizes with a scene showing New York City inundated by foot waves. This was rip-roaring entertainment, to be sure, but Gore was claiming the mantle of scientific authority. His exaggerations, given legitimacy by the Nobel Committee, only damaged the cause he claims to defend. Thanks largely to Gore and his acolytes, the climate-change debate no longer takes place among knowledgeable people who might disagree about its extent and its causes; instead, enemy camps of believers and disbelievers square off, forever irreconcilable.


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The group recommended that Gore receive an Oscar for hypocrisy rather than for best documentary. Until , the Microsoft founder was the richest entrepreneur in the United States and the second-richest man in the world; after , he became the most generous philanthropist in history. In June , Gates received an honorary doctorate from Harvard, where he had dropped out 32 years earlier. Certainly, the second Gates has won more esteem than the first did. Unlike his old rival Steve Jobs, Gates was never that popular as a businessman. When he presided over Microsoft, the U.

Like John D. He seems happier for it. Doing this, though, would deprive Gates of a job and probably any media interest. Nor would it do much to reduce world poverty, a key Gates Foundation goal. But after 12 years of operation, has the foundation come any closer to realizing this grand ambition? N ot in Africa, anyway. To improve Indian wheat-seed yields, Rockefeller operated its own research labs in Mexico under the direction of American agronomist Norman Borlaug, who would win the Nobel Prize for his work in In other words, the foundation conducts itself in the region as if it were a state donor or the World Bank, offering foreign aid to a government recipient.

But the deeper issue is that this kind of aid has never been effective, agriculturally or economically. Over the past three decades, only nations that renounced authoritarian economic policies in favor of greater private entrepreneurship and commerce have reduced mass poverty: India, Brazil, China, Ghana, Mauritius—countries with extraordinarily diverse cultures—all made enormous economic progress after freeing up their markets. Foreign aid, the evidence shows, is useful mostly just to its immediate beneficiaries: larcenous heads of state, bureaucrats administering the aid, and, perhaps, the occasional impoverished peasant put on display to prime the philanthropic pump.

Worse, such aid props up kleptocracies and thus prevents development. If the Indian government in the s had brought in aid comparable with what the Gates Foundation is spending today in Africa, India may never have started down the path to growing prosperity.

Twenty-Two

Such consolidation, though, remains a necessary condition for boosting agricultural productivity—paving the way for industrialization and economic development. Unfortunately, the Gates Foundation promises that its African Green Revolution, by increasing crop yields, will actually help the small peasant cling to his ancestral plot, which might delight visiting Western celebrities but will do little to advance African development. At the Gates Foundation, we first thought that a miracle seed was the solution, but then it became clear that the distribution infrastructures were lacking, and that the necessary markets did not exist.

Surely, they would know better what to do with it than Kenyan government officials would.

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They can do what they want with it, right? And that they do—and not just in Africa.

The Greatest Philanthropist the World

Gates believed that American public schools were mediocre because classes were too large. Student academic achievement did not improve, though, and the foundation eventually abandoned the project after its director conceded failure and resigned. Unlike Winfrey, Gates admitted his mistake, for which he deserves credit. But the presumed virtue of small schools was based solely on his own intuition; it had no basis in science.

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I n the fight against malaria in Africa, Gates has also been more philanthropist for show than an effective donor. Without question, treating and preventing malaria in sub-Saharan Africa is a vital cause. Of the , deaths that the disease caused worldwide in , the World Health Organization reports, 90 percent were in Africa.

But the Gates Foundation, exhibiting a suspicion of capitalism similar in spirit to its agricultural romanticism, decided to give East African villagers, particularly in Malawi, mosquito nets treated with insecticide, instead of selling them the nets. Yet studies show the relative effectiveness of selling such goods to the poor, even at a merely symbolic price: the buyer of a net will tend to understand its importance and make better use of it than someone who receives a net as a charitable gift.

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