Letters

Bill Gates: Hero or villain? Readers respond to Andrew Leonard's "Earth to Bill Gates: Thank You."


Salon Staff
May 13, 2003 11:30PM (UTC)

[Read the story.]

Thank you to Mr. Leonard for mentioning Gates' remarks to Bill Moyers so I could watch it Friday night on PBS.

Being involved in the software industry for about 10 years, I have strong opinions about Gates and Microsoft related to their anti-competitive business practices, etc. ... I was astounded to hear this man speak with infinite warmth and compassion about global health and general suffering.

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Maybe a "benevolent monopolist" is not an oxymoron.

-- Kamalesh Thakker

I thought that Andrew Leonard and the Salon editors did a remarkably evenhanded job of applauding Bill Gates for his philanthropy. Salon is an open-minded publication in the truest sense of the word -- it gives credit where credit is due, regardless of ideological affiliation. NewsMax would never have applauded Ted Turner's $1 billion gift to the U.N., for example -- most likely, NewsMax would never even have mentioned it. I applaud Salon for not only writing an intelligent and balanced article, but also for having kept those standards throughout its publication.

Much thanks from a Salon Premium subscriber.

-- Luke McReynolds

Call me cynical, but it seems to me that the least anyone at or near Gates' level of wealth can do is be generously philanthropic. Mr. Gates' noblesse oblige would be more impressive to me had he earned his billions more legitimately. Sure, he's giving away more because he's got more than anyone else. This doesn't absolve his proven monopolistic business practices, mind-boggling propagandistic expenditures (solely to crush his competitors -- a tally I'm sure registers in the billions by now), and disingenuous, bumbling obfuscation on the stand to perpetuate Microsoft's dominance over the wasteful, mediocre landscape of "high-tech" computing he's created in his image. And for what? Internet-ready toilets? Microsoft Word? An entire segment of the world's economy devoted to fixing Windows? Yeah. Thanks a lot, Bill. What would we do without you?

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-- Martin Ferrini

Kudos for bringing truth and light to a subject about which I share Salon's antagonism. Bill Gates' predatory business practices anger and frustrate me; the application of his ill-gotten gains elevates him beyond Robin Hood status to virtual holy man. May the almighty protect and defend Mr. Gates in his efforts to eradicate disease and ignorance from those most vulnerable on earth.

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-- Steve Kaufman

If Andrew had done a little research he would have found that until Ted Turner publicly embarrassed Gates he did not give any of his money away. And after that embarrassment he started giving away computers (with Windows) to schools. He still operates under a predatory business style and is a major investor in one of the most right-wing news organizations in the country (MSNBC). However, Melinda is a different story. and probably all the credit for his/their humanitarian philanthropy should go to her. So please give credit where credit is due.

-- Gary Straub

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I'm torn between admiring you for featuring the positive work that Gates is doing (while still fairly admitting your complaints about his business practices) and being upset that he seems to have to be a "liberal" to be doing what he is doing. The statement "It would be foolish to expect Bill Gates to start flinging direct attacks at George Bush" depresses me; why does everything I read in Salon have to come with a bonus spoonful of hatred of this administration? The philanthropic work of Gates started long before Bush took office, and it will no doubt outlive his presidency. What did Clinton do (that was not simply rhetorical) to aid the Third World that purely outclasses Bush's recent pledge of funds to combat the African AIDS epidemic, for example? And why should any of these politics be the axis around which the story on Gates spins?

-- Bill Ardolino

I loved Mr. Leonard's editorial about the activities of Mr. Gates!

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I'm from Seattle and have seen the good and bad results of the rise of the house of Gates, much of which has been covered, well I might add, in Salon.

I'm also someone who grew up benefiting from one of the other great American philanthropists -- Andrew Carnegie. I can't even count the hours I spent in the library he funded. Carnegie could be a real bastard to his workers, but he did leave a powerful positive legacy. If Mr. Gates lives up to his word and does "give it all away," his impact on the human condition will indeed be far greater than anything Microsoft ever does.

I also think it's important to cover this type of issue in the major media (yes, that's you, Salon) if for no other reason than to spread the word that people can make a difference by taking a little responsibility for the world in which they live.

-- Michael Lindsay

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Gates' charitable giving must be one of the most underreported stories. His contributions are making a significant difference in developing nations, due in part to the magnitude of his largesse. I'm so glad that its finally receiving the attention it deserves. Alas, Bill Gates is not the root of all evil.

-- Laura Roos

I enjoyed Andrew Leonard's article "Earth to Bill Gates: Thank You" very much. Those of us who criticize Microsoft's heavy-handed business practices should also consider the enormous contributions Mr. Gates has made to the fight against preventable diseases in the developing world.

I do not agree, however, that by holding the American people, rather than George W. Bush, responsible for "the Bush administration's opposition to funding for reproductive health and family planning services worldwide" Mr. Gates was "blandly ducking" the question. Dangling chads and campaign finance scandals aside, this is a democracy: We get the government we deserve. If the citizens of the country refuse to consider the effect of their decisions on the rest of the world, we shouldn't be surprised to have a president who does the same.

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-- Robert Kingan

As Andrew Leonard's fine article points out, Bill Gates is part of a grand American tradition of rapacious, no-holds-barred businessmen, such as Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Warren Buffett and Ted Turner, who built tremendous fortunes and companies but left an even greater legacy of charitable donations to help improve the lives of people around the world.

Contrast this to the example provided by the moral exemplar Bill Bennett. He claims that the $8 million that he blew on slot machines and video poker hurt no one since he was not spending his children's milk money, but think about all the good that $8 million could have done in some poor country or even in many parts of America. He could have built an entire hospital with vitally needed modern equipment and saved the lives of literally thousands of poor men, women and children. He could have felt the pride and joy that would come from such an accomplishment. Even if he were completely amoral and cynical, this use of his money would have at least helped promote his virtuous brand value. Instead he looks like a putz and a hypocrite, joining the other less proud American tradition exemplified by such fictional characters and real people such as Elmer Gantry, Jim Baker and Jimmy Swaggert.

There is a lesson here for all of us, however meager our resources. All religious traditions, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc., respect the generous and charitable man and despise the self-indulgent.

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-- Martin Kannengieser

Your article on Bill Gates was exactly right on every detail -- particularly the fact that there is something wrong about news coverage that gives more importance to 100 deaths in a crash than to thousands (or tens of thousands) of avoidable children's deaths every day.

And you're right about Bill Gates -- thank God at least one powerful person in the world understands what can and should be done with what he has. He can inflict all the crummy software on the world that he wants if the profits will go to this cause.

-- Donald Johnson

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Let's see now, what issue has always been a threat to Microsoft? Maybe intellectual property rights?

What issue is most likely to change intellectual property law as we know it, and in a direction that large companies will not like? Maybe AIDS and other infectious diseases in the Third World?

Now, it may be cynical, but it seems to me that Gates is just attempting to patch a "failure of capitalism" that is going to hurt Microsoft a great deal in the long run. If governments in Africa begin distributing generic drugs against the will of international trade organizations, Gates may fear that generic computer operating systems won't be far behind. Does this make Gates' charity any less worthy? Of course not. But calling him a closet liberal for being self-serving is a bit much

-- Dan Somone

Compared to the taxes I pay, little of which is spent to help the world's most needy, those upgrades I buy every other year seem like a bargain. I also like that the wacko right has no influence over how Gates will spend his money.

-- Jason Osgood

You have said it very well: Bill Gates deserves the esteem and gratitude of the people of the world for his intelligent generosity. Although I'm always grateful to GE or Weyerhaeuser for providing me a symphony performance, a ballet, or a large art show, Gates is actually a making a lasting difference in humanity's situation.

I'm an out-of-work Oracle analyst programmer with 18 years of experience, to some degree swamped by the tide of SQLServer acceptance. I'd prefer that Oracle be winning the database wars, but Larry [Ellison] would just spend the money on another stinking MiG. So I say, "Thank you, Bill."

-- Richard Bullington

Thank you, Andrew Leonard.

Your brief article nearly brought tears to my eyes, not because of the subject matter (although I agree that what Gates is doing is wonderful), but because this sort of thing is what makes me love Salon. I'm so tired of groups -- the media and otherwise -- who can see issues or public figures only in black and white. The fact that you and the Salon editors were able to see past Microsoft and Gates' business tactics to acknowledge that he is doing a great thing with his billions helps reassure me that there are still sensible people in the world and makes me proud to be a paid subscriber.

-- Katy Moore


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