Will history show Bill Gates as the greatest philanthropist that ever lived?

Bill Gates is now the world’s second richest person. He has a personal fortune of $94 billion. He would probably still be the world’s richest person, if he hadn’t given away $50 billion to charity over the years.

He co-founded The Giving Pledge in 2010, along with his wife, Melinda Gates, and Warren Buffett.

It’s basically a campaign to get billionaires to leave their money to good causes when they die. The pledges currently total over $365 billion.

To put that into perspective, the biggest foreign aid contributor in the world is the US. Not as a percentage of GDP, but as a total amount. In 2017, it donated $25.6 billion to foreign economic aid and development.

So, Bill Gates’ campaign is responsible for the equivalent of more than 14 years of US foreign aid. And it’s equivalent to over 19 years’ UK foreign aid, which in 2016 stood at $18.9 billion.

I’m sure there’s an argument against governments and taxes, and for individual freedom, in terms of what helps more people around the world there… But that’s more of a topic for our sister publication, Capital & Conflict.

I started looking into those numbers after seeing Bill Gates has announced he is donating $100 million to the fight against Alzheimer’s.

It turns out his dad has the disease and he wants to do everything he can to help him.

Here’s what he said about it:

“I have a father who’s affected deeply by it. Only by solving problems like this can we take these medical costs and the human tragedy and really get those under control.”

And he seems hopeful his donation and intellectual contributions can help.

“One of the things we’re trying to figure out is, when does the Alzheimer’s really get started? When would you need to treat some to completely avoid them getting Alzheimer’s?

“I’m an optimist. Bringing in new ideas, that’s what we’re going to have to do, to have great drugs for this in the next 10 to 15 years.”

However, don’t let Bill Gates lull you into thinking all big corporations are run by good people.

You are nothing more than data to be harvested

The most successful business model for current internet companies is to leech money from our personal data.

Think, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Instagram et al.

The more personal and the more in-depth the data is, the more money they make selling it on.

It’s taken people a long time to wake up to this parasitical relationship. But wake up they have. Or at least, have started to.

There was an interesting article in The Guardian other day about the fight back for a more egalitarian internet.

It was titled, “The punk rock internet – how DIY ​​rebels ​are working to ​replace the tech giants”.

And you can read it here if you’re interested.

The main crux of the argument was the basic one against most internet giants. That they are parasites and that we should have more control of our data.

How will this happen? Decentralisation, via the blockchain, of course!

I’ve written before about a more decentralised model for the internet. It’s one of the key use cases for cryptocurrency technology.

The basic idea is you would control your own identity and your own data. No central platform would hold any of your details, you’d grant access and revoke access at will, and your data would remain private.

Obviously, this is a massive problem for the likes of Facebook. If the technology takes off, its entire business model is rendered useless. That’s probably why Mark Zuckerberg dedicated a big portion of his end-of-year post to cryptocurrencies:

One of the most interesting questions in technology right now is about centralization vs decentralization. A lot of us got into technology because we believe it can be a decentralizing force that puts more power in people’s hands. (The first four words of Facebook’s mission have always been “give people the power”.) Back in the 1990s and 2000s, most people believed technology would be a decentralizing force.

But today, many people have lost faith in that promise. With the rise of a small number of big tech companies — and governments using technology to watch their citizens — many people now believe technology only centralizes power rather than decentralizes it.

There are important counter-trends to this –like encryption and cryptocurrency — that take power from centralized systems and put it back into people’s hands. But they come with the risk of being harder to control. I’m interested to go deeper and study the positive and negative aspects of these technologies, and how best to use them in our services.

He is a very smart person with unparalleled vision, undoubtedly. So he will have seen this all coming. The question is, what’s he going to do about it?

I mean, aside from banning ads that relate to bitcoin and initial coin offerings (ICOs) on Facebook. Which he announced last week. Which, I’m sure has everything to do with protecting users and nothing to do with the threat Facebook faces from crypto.

Aside from that, I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

But make no mistake, the battle between internet giants and egalitarian upstarts will be a big topic in the coming months and years.

A lot of money will be made and lost in the process. And we may end up with a whole new crop of world-leading companies.

Do you think Facebook and its ilk will win out, or are you backing the “punk rock internet” to win? Let us know in the comments below.

Harry Hamburg
Editor, Exponential Investor

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