Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Some Billionaires Think The Economic Future Is In The Health And Wealth Of The Poor

Does this human resource hold the key to the future stability of the global economy?

America's richest people meet to discuss ways of tackling a 'disastrous' environmental, social and industrial threat.
The Sunday London Times, John Harlow, Los Angeles

SOME of America’s leading billionaires have met secretly to consider how their wealth could be used to slow the growth of the world’s population and speed up improvements in health and education.

The philanthropists who attended a summit convened on the initiative of Bill Gates, the Microsoft co-founder, discussed joining forces to overcome political and religious obstacles to change.

Described as the Good Club by one insider it included David Rockefeller Jr, the patriarch of America’s wealthiest dynasty, Warren Buffett and George Soros, the financiers, Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York, and the media moguls Ted Turner and Oprah Winfrey.
These members, along with Gates, have given away more than £45 billion since 1996 to causes ranging from health programmes in developing countries to ghetto schools nearer to home.

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They gathered at the home of Sir Paul Nurse, a British Nobel prize biochemist and president of the private Rockefeller University, in Manhattan on May 5. The informal afternoon session was so discreet that some of the billionaires’ aides were told they were at “security briefings”.
Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, said the summit was unprecedented. “We only learnt about it afterwards, by accident. Normally these people are happy to talk good causes, but this is different – maybe because they don’t want to be seen as a global cabal,” he said.
Some details were emerging this weekend, however. The billionaires were each given 15 minutes to present their favourite cause. Over dinner they discussed how they might settle on an “umbrella cause” that could harness their interests.

The issues debated included reforming the supervision of overseas aid spending to setting up rural schools and water systems in developing countries. Taking their cue from Gates they agreed that overpopulation was a priority.

This could result in a challenge to some Third World politicians who believe contraception and female education weaken traditional values. (I can think of at least two mega religions who see things the same way and are also addicted to traditional roles for women.)

Gates, 53, who is giving away most of his fortune, argued that healthier families, freed from malaria and extreme poverty, would change their habits and have fewer children within half a generation. (That does seem to be the message of the rise of the middle class in the West.)

At a conference in Long Beach, California, last February, he had made similar points. “Official projections say the world’s population will peak at 9.3 billion [up from 6.6 billion today] but with charitable initiatives, such as better reproductive healthcare, we think we can cap that at 8.3 billion,” Gates said then.

Patricia Stonesifer, former chief executive of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which gives more than £2 billion a year to good causes, attended the Rockefeller summit. She said the billionaires met to “discuss how to increase giving” and they intended to “continue the dialogue” over the next few months.

Another guest said there was “nothing as crude as a vote” but a consensus emerged that they would back a strategy in which population growth would be tackled as a potentially disastrous environmental, social and industrial threat. (All three of which make overpopulation a very big international security threat.)

“This is something so nightmarish that everyone in this group agreed it needs big-brain answers,” said the guest. “They need to be independent of government agencies, which are unable to head off the disaster we all see looming.” (I suspect the level of political and governmental corruption has a lot to do with this attitude.)

Why all the secrecy? “They wanted to speak rich to rich without worrying anything they said would end up in the newspapers, painting them as an alternative world government,” he said. (I don't know this is an alternative world government, but it is an alternative to conventional NGO's and global religious charities.)


This was certainly a get together of some of America's most successful and wealthiest, but it wasn't a get together of politically congruent people. To me that's what makes this interesting, and it's interesting to note that Donald Trump, Rupert Murdoch and Tom Monaghan weren't in attendance. I doubt their respective wealth or lack there of, was the issue.

One of the things I've always respected about the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is that they don't throw money at something for the sake of throwing money. They demand transparency, accountability, and results. They are also never afraid to fund outside the box of conventional scientific thinking, giving grants to projects whose innovation makes them unappealing to the usual grant sources. This is especially true in their outlook on infectious diseases like HIV, malaria and polio.

The literature seems to back up Bill Gate's assertion that better health care, less poverty, and a higher level of education will by themselves naturally reduce the number of children couples will produce. That this is a natural phenomenon should not be over looked. It is not necessarily a product of contraception. When environmental stressors are reduced people do not reproduce at the previously higher rate. Partly because there is no perceived need to and partly because populations in the animal world tend to adjust their levels to environmental survival requirements. Nature not only abhors a vacuum but also prefers homeostatic balance.

It appears one of the mutual understandings that this group has come to is that it is well past time that corporate entities put value on the long term prospects of their human consumers. If corporations like Microsoft are to continue to generate income they need human consumers who can afford their products. Letting the entire African continent suffer from preventable or treatable diseases and endemic poverty is not a particularly bright strategy for the global future of companies like Microsoft. It is not a bright strategy for the future of any economic system, and it is certainly not a bright strategy for the long term security of the planet much less it's continued ecological existence.

I don't think that this particular group of billionaires is interested in becoming a 'New World Government'. I think they are interested in protecting the future of their business enterprises and have decided the best way to do that is to invest in the health and well being of global humanity. This is a very different approach from business interests who protected their futures by exploiting those parts of global humanity which didn't reflect their socioeconomic or racial backgrounds.

Investing in the people of the third world is a much better long term strategy for global stability than exploiting the material resources of the third world for the short term benefit of the first world. This is a strategy that seems to appeal to very politically diverse billionaires who are willing to put vast sums of their own money into this novel approach. That's not a bad thing, that's a good thing. The kind of thing which just might be discussed in Pope Benedict's upcoming encyclical on global social justice.


  1. It would be really interesting if the Vatican would follow Bill Gates lead, and give away most of the fortunes in the Vatican vaults, if for nothing else, than to keep parishes open.

    Hmmm ... the Vatican part with its wealth .... never happen. If the Vatican bank was empty, the Magisterial Authorities would no longer have a god to serve.

  2. (yes, that was sarcastic ;-)

  3. I think that these billionaires have their hearts and money in the right places. It only makes sense that in order to expand one's business that more people be enabled to buy those products. Their investments are very wise ones. I wish that they were also investing in the inner cities of this country that have been crumbling for a long time. Perhaps they are, but I am unaware.