This month seems to be the crucible moment for Bill Gates, who — following the announcement of his impending divorce from Melinda Gates — has a series of compounding sex scandals rising like shit in the cesspool. Sexual harassment, fraternizing with child rapist Jeffrey Epstein, and an affair with a Microsoft employee over 20 years ago while a newlywed have tarnished a reputation described succinctly by Ted Schleifer at Vox thusly:
Ever since stepping back from Microsoft [in 2008], Gates has grown to epitomize what might be considered the “Good Billionaire”: a civic-minded, awkward geek who showed how capitalism’s winnings can be marshaled to make the world a better place through philanthropy.
There’s no denying that these sex scandals are all pretty awful but this hullabaloo also obscures a fundamentally simple fact, namely that the shit now rising to the top of the tank is emblematic of the colossal dung heap Gates has been from the very beginning. You only know his name because of a career during which he specialized at freezing your PC with Microsoft’s shitty operating systems, the horrific Bing search engine, assorted grifts, and self-serving publicity stunts passed off as “charity.” To compare him with unionist-murdering Gilded Age titans of industry like Andrew Carnegie would actually be unfair to Carnegie, who at least had the decency to build libraries and other public sector utilities to serve the common good. No, Gates has been as evil as John Milton’s Lucifer for almost half a century, when he and Paul Allen started Microsoft.
The ubiquitous computing corporation is well known for saturating the market to the point that Mac’s OSX, Google Chrome, or, God forbid, Linux are outliers for hobbyists and trendy dorks. It’s the classic story of failing upwards in a plainly-illegal fashion. Anyone with a brain in their skull knows that Windows has been a never-ending nightmare for 30 years. As noted above, it freezes constantly, crashes regularly, and is so mind-numbingly limited in technical capacity that, in the 2000s, the entire film industry en masse opted to use Macs for digitally editing movies. Its programming architecture is the software equivalent of Soviet Bulgarian brutalism, circa 1950, ostentatiously absurd for reasons linked to delusions of grandeur. And yet, despite this, the vast majority of the private and public sector use Windows for essential computing operations.
How this all happened is another scandal.
During the 1990s, Gates illegally manipulated markets and engaged in monopoly practices that violated the 1890 Sherman Antitrust Act. In ironic hindsight, this should have indicated to the public that the tech sector was going to blast the nation economically back in time to the 19th century. With mafia strong-arm tactics, he squashed competition and forced the entire business sector to use Microsoft products or die a miserable death.
Indeed, this is a little known reason for the existence of computer viruses. Gates burned millions of programmers and they decided to exact revenge by flooding cyberspace with malware, Trojan horses, and other cybercrime projects, in order to fuck around with Microsoft users since they couldn’t fuck around directly with Gates. During his antitrust deposition, he was a petulant asshole, ducking and dodging Justice Department attorney David Boies, who clearly had a bullseye on him. Business Week wrote in an otherwise-adulatory column from November 1998:
By most measures, the flesh-and-blood Gates has come off far less admirably in his videotaped performance at his company’s antitrust trial. He squirms and hedges. He argues with prosecutors over the definition of commonly used words, including ”we” and ”compete.” Early rounds of his deposition show him offering obfuscatory answers and saying ”I don’t recall” so many times that even the presiding judge had to chuckle. Worse, many of the technology chief’s denials and pleas of ignorance have been directly refuted by prosecutors with snippets of E-mail [sic] Gates both sent and received.
Gates built Microsoft by either scamming or outright stealing innovative technologies from better computer engineers in order to cobble together the shit show that is Windows. If someone were to write a biography of the operating system, it would be a parade of ruthless backstabbing and robberies akin to a Victorian penny dreadful.
Gates’s antics had a major role in a massive economic contraction known as the dot-com bubble. During the Nineties, President Bill Clinton, riding high on the afterglow of Reagan’s deregulation bonanza, argued that the world wide web and home computers would form the cornerstone of a “new economy,” where the capitalist system would become a hybrid of in-person service economy jobs and online commerce that would exponentially improve living standards. This was only half-wrong, but catastrophically so. Some of the original players, like Google and Amazon, remain major economic players. But for every decent online venture there were a hundred more utterly ridiculous startups that went belly-up within five years. One of these burnouts was Pets.com, which reached financial levels so massive it broadcast this commercial during the January 30, 2000 Super Bowl, before crashing the following November.
The reason for this is rather simple. The entire dot-com business sector was really just a lot of old-fashioned speculation akin to what had caused the Great Depression seven decades prior. The Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997 had reduced the capital gains tax, allowing investors to engage in more risky stock market bets for lower cost, and the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was supposedly intended to break down analog-era boundaries in order to allow commerce to cross borders in mere seconds inside cyberspace. Suddenly every nitwit with a modem, a webpage, and a hundred bags of plastic dog poop was shopping their prospectus around to investors, including many freshly-minted consumer traders with their first desktop and not a lot of smarts about how Wall Street actually works, mostly due to using trading websites like E*TRADE as opposed to a traditional broker.
Doug Henwood wrote in his witty postmortem After the New Economy:
For a while in the late 1990s we had a New Economy. It was the wonder of the world. Computers had unleashed a productivity miracle, recessions were things of the past, ideas had replaced things as the motors of economic life, the world had become unprecedentedly globalized, work had become deeply meaningful, and mutual funds had put an end to class conflict. Even to conventional minds, a lot of that sounds embarrassing now. But commentary on the era usually treats it as a mix of collective folly and outright criminality–never as something emerging from the innards of the American economic machinery…There was something aberrational about the late 1990s, for sure, but the New Economy moment was a manic set of variations on ancient themes, all promoted from the highest places. Presidents and treasury secretaries restructured economies, encouraged by Wall Street analysts and Alan Greenspan. Techno-utopianism is an old theme in American culture. Bill Gates’s fantasies of the frictionless economy–spun out, it’s said, with the assistance of thirteen ghostwriters–were the latest incarnation of an old elite desire to put workers and the ugly things that sometimes come with them out of sight.
It was only a matter of time before the dominoes began to tumble, leading to a recession in the early months of 2001. As an industrial leader with a macro-view of the computing industry, Gates could have easily called bullshit on this lunacy. But then again, such a Warren Buffet-styled intervention might have reduced demand for Microsoft products, which were flying off the shelves at light-speed to become staples of this new-fangled gimmick known as “the home office.” Why argue for basic economic decency at the expense of profit margins? So much for the “Good Billionaire.”
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) has been another catastrophe for human civilization. While it has the aura of a 21st century Rockefeller Foundation, in reality it is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that seems to break almost every IRS regulation by acting as the family’s political lobby in tandem with the neoliberal element of the Democratic Party. Regrettably, it has become a major centrifuge around which millions of deluded right-wing conspiracy theories orbit — a true shame because such nonsense effectively obscures the Foundation’s vile deeds.
Domestically, the BMGF has been a major sponsor, alongside hedge funds, of the scorched earth war against public education during the past 20 years, illustrating the larger reorientation of the Democratic Party away from its traditional union constituency towards Silicon Valley and Wall Street following Bill Clinton’s 1992 election triumph.
The Foundation is a heavy supporter of standardized testing, soul-crushing multi-week exercises in Scantron bubble sheets whose pedagogical value and basic validity have been thoroughly repudiated but which do, with shocking results, buttress the argument to fire “bad” unionized teachers in “failing” schools. BMGF supports the proliferation of privatized charter schools, which sap finances and resources away from schools that remain populated by high-needs special education, low-income, and English language learning students deemed “unacceptable” by the private sector.
Both efforts are morally bankrupt exercises that successfully prevent the public from reaching a logical conclusion. So long as there is childhood poverty, homelessness, healthcare disparities and hunger, there will be poor educational outcomes and the school-to-prison pipeline. The only cure for those problems is a revitalized welfare state combined with a radical reorientation of the public discourse around racial justice and reparations, which, inconveniently for tech oligarchs, requires higher taxes on the rich. As an aside, it bears mentioning that the tech industry is extremely white, male, and inclined to a frightening affinity for the Libertarian Party, with all its attendant crackpot policy suggestions and white nationalist inclinations, as well as the ongoing epic adventures of John McAffee.
Furthermore, though this is merely my own hunch, I suspect Gates has a grudge against teacher unions, a major pillar of the American labor movement, because he can easily envision these white collar professional unions being able to support currently-nonunion computer programmers if they ever tried to organize their workplaces, as we saw happen last winter at Google. As Doug Henwood pointed out in a recent column, industrial titans like Gates do have a class analysis and (sometimes but not often) act accordingly, using chess-like thinking that is three steps ahead of their opponent, labor.
Under the rhetorical gimmick of “a computer in every classroom,” BMGF proliferates digital learning, a Trojan horse that eventually will make a trained teacher, in the utopian capitalist hypothetical, an anachronism in fully-digitized curriculum delivery systems. This is despite pediatric health studies that show increased screen time results in higher rates of ADHD, carpal tunnel syndrome, altered sleep cycles, and a multiplicity of chronic health conditions lasting into adulthood. In states where this has taken hold, such as Florida, educators are replaced by supervisory proctors in rooms where students sit all day on computers being “taught” via platforms with dubious educational value.
And BMGF bankrolled the abominable Common Core State Standards, a rewrite of national education curriculum that fundamentally pivots away from the traditional liberal arts paradigm, which teaches critical thinking skills, and towards simplistic labor training, which teaches running a cash register. The revolutionary Brazilian education theorist Paulo Freire once said, “I cannot avoid a permanently critical attitude toward what I consider to be the scourge of neoliberalism, with its cynical fatalism and its inflexible negation of the right to dream differently, to dream of utopia.” That summarizes the Common Core project quite nicely.
It bears mentioning that Gates set off a wider tech industry trend. Since he was the richest man on the planet, his profile was one all others sought to mimic, excepting of course that hippie weirdo Steve Jobs, who had his own issues. Silicon Valley has formed a powerful bloc with a massive lobby that seeks to destroy public education. In New Orleans, there are no longer any public schools left at all, as they were totally privatized in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. This is a frightening sneak preview of its grand plans for the entire nation. Every tech firm, from Google to Netflix to Amazon to any other in between, participates in this effort and it is having measurable, horrific outcomes for faculty, students, and communities across the United States.
Internationally, BMGF has been all over the place, many times in collaboration with the Clinton Foundation. That’s another funhouse of horrors that Ken Silverstein detailed several years ago. Other examples of the Foundation’s evil ways are:
—Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, a scandal-plagued humanitarian catastrophe.
—The microcredit lending scandal that began in the late-2000s and led to a wave of suicides by poor farmers in India and other Global Southern countries. The BMGF foundation peddled those loans like coke at Studio 54.
—Proliferating genetically modified organisms (GMOs) manufactured by Monsanto, despite overwhelming evidence that the company’s mandatory RoundUp pesticide, made with the chemical glyphosate, is a carcinogen.
—Racist paternalism, skewing welfare state priorities, and aiding neocolonial pharmaceutical enterprises in Africa under the guise of “public health,” around HIV/AIDS, polio, tuberculosis, and malaria, including accusations of human experimentation. This includes lobbying against loosening patent restrictions on the COVID-19 vaccines, an essential step for mass inoculations in the Global South. If this is what you call healthcare, break out the Chianti and page Hannibal Lecter stat.
—Giving a big award in 2019 to the Hindu fascist Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, a man who oversaw massive anti-Muslim pogroms in 2002 while Chief Minister of the State of Gujarat.
And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. The Gates Foundation is a cornucopia of corruption and evil. Melinda Gates will probably come out of these scandals with a PR wash that turns her into a secular Virgin Mary, meaning very little will change.
This did not have to happen. Bill Gates could have been just a little less greedy and had a little more social conscience.
In the last century, industrial titans did begrudgingly seek, in a few instances, to work with labor in order to develop a social contract that created neither a revolution nor wealth inequality. Jimmy Hoffa was up to his eyeballs in Mafia thugs, but he also delivered the Master Contract to the Teamsters union, long a platinum standard of union victories.
Though grinding his teeth the entire time, Robert McNamara worked with United Auto Workers President Walter Reuther at Ford Motor Company to build a tax base in Detroit that made its schools some of the greatest in America. It could have been possible for these “new economy” gurus to behave with some ethics and work to revitalize rather than smother a welfare state social contract that, by the time of the Clinton presidency, was already falling apart.
Though economic determinism is the bane of the Left, it is impossible, in conclusion, to ignore the way that Gates has seemingly modeled his entire career on Marx’s Mr. Moneybags. The interesting question, however, is whether he realizes that, at the end of his journey, we find out Moneybags has unintentionally set into motion a set of events leading to his self-destruction and, in practical terms, ends up committing suicide by proxy at the guillotine.