February 1, 2009

Today's problems come first

The Bill & Melinda Gates philanthropy foundation will not live on forever. Difficult to believe, given how many billions they are pouring into it, topped up with billions handed over by Warren Buffet's.

These are smart people, savvy people, and they don't toss the money about willy-nilly, you’d think they’d spin things out a bit.

But no, within 50 years of the Gates’ dying (and only 10 years of Buffet passing, if I recall), all of the money will be spent, come what may.

No monuments, no legacy to pass to distantly future generations.


Because the Gates and Buffet don’t know what problems will warrant intervention long after their deaths. They can’t anticipate what will be most pressing. They don’t know what solutions might be available, They can’t define how their money should be spent in 50 or 100 years time, or who would be suitable people to manage and allocate funds somewhere over the horizon.

Did I mention these people were smart, very, very smart?

There’s a lesson in there for all of us.


  1. Anonymous7:55 PM

    I know...!

    The ongoing good works of the Gates' Foundation could be administered in perpetuity, after the model of the Nobel Prizes in the sciences, by a committee of eminent persons nominated by bodies such as the ICRC, Oxfam, World Vision, etc. True, they wouldn't always get everything 100% right, but hell nobody ever does.

    Naturally, oversight of the proceeds by any political body ought to be avoided. After all, such an arrangement led to the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1972 to Kissinger.

    Really, Bill and Melinda need to stop being such control freaks.

    On the other hand, it is their money.

  2. As has been speculated, I do suspect that Bill Gates has Aspergers.(He has been known to sit in his office "rocking" a typical Aspie /autistic trait)
    . Many Aspies are very skilled at the sciences, or maths...generally the very logical subjects where there are rules to follow. They are often lacking in communication and social skills.( finding it quite enervating and stressful in social situations.)

    Perhaps poor old Bill is just naive.That's another Aspie trait.

    Just a thought...

  3. Anonymous8:29 PM

    I reckon Bill's probably a real sweetheart, in his own nerdy way.

    I never thought he deserved that cream pie in the face from Patisseries Sans Frontieres. Never mind his business practices, which weren't particularly evil by any means. At least he's given, and continues to give, a huge proportion of his ill gotten gains back to the planet.

  4. Well, the condition is that the money all be spent within 50 years - AFTER THEY DIE Jacob, so I'm not too sure about the control freakerish jibe, unless you know something that we don't.

    The Noble Prize is a prize, and actually quite easily defined.

    I was struck by how right the Gates & Buffet are in deciding that they aren't control freaks, that they have no aspiration for their charitable dollars to continue to be distributed in 100 years time, a time in which they have no capability to anticipate or define focus or priorities. They want to solve today's urgent problems, issues that have been known for decades, but which governments do nothing constructive. They've clearly decided that future generations are better placed to solve future problems as they arise.

    Kath - Gates is highly articulate and compellingly good company (difficult to not be good company if you're always the smartest guy in the room), as far as I understand it, not shy or quiet. People pay to hear him speak.

  5. I dunno Caz. This is a description of a young Bill Gates.
    " His parents were both overachievers, but Bill’s early characteristics made him seem an unlikely candidate for one of the future richest men in the world--he was shy and unsocial and it looked like he was just going to be an average lawyer like his father. He was talented in the academic areas of math and logistics.."

    Ya see, the really smart ones (Aspergers) learn to adapt in the neurotypical world, however painful that may be at times.

    They want to be accepted.

    A very shy girl in my daughter's class who has Aspergers, is only now becoming more social. But it's a hard thing for her. She needs quite a bit of down time alone as she finds socializing with many people quite difficult. She wants to fit in though, so makes the effort.
    Her Mum told me that she actually looks at a persons ear when she is talking to them. Making direct eye contact is very disconcerting for her..

    On the contrary, many Aspergers people are very articulate. Sometimes to the point where they are a bit geeky and narrow in their interests.(boring)

    Put another way, they certainly ain't the life of the party.

    Hence the poor buggers don't get too many party invitations.

  6. Anonymous10:07 PM


  7. Jeez, you fold easily Jacob!

    Kath - don't know, I can only go on what I've read, and I have read biographies on Gates. Geeky yes, but never any suggestion that he had any kind of social difficulties. Like any geek he found his own kind, he also chased after women, liked fast cars and partying.

    Gates isn't the computer whiz that people make him out to be, he has always been a very smart entrepreneur - he bought DOS from some (still poor) guy for $50K, he didn't even design his first operating system, in other words.

    He reads hundreds of books a year, on wide range of topics. It's interesting how his image is still tied up with geek / computer nerd, when really he has always been an astute business man. He had the nous to see the future of desktop computing, but he didn't create the OS.

    You might be right about him, but given the number of people who have met him, studied him, written about him, no one has ever come up with a diagnosis of any kind, other than a really smart guy with voracious intellectual appetite.

  8. Anonymous11:49 PM

    I know, Caz, I just suddenly ran out of puff.

    I mean, how Bill & Mel choose to spend their billions is really a 10th order problem and ultimately up to them.

    Whether the bureaucracy which will administer their funds for the 50 years after their passing will be any more efficient than any other... oh, never mind.

    Whatever, I still reckon Bill & Mel are pretty cool. They can come to my party any time. BYO not required, and I'll even drive them back to their hotel if they have a few too many, the wild things.

  9. Not sure if I could cope with either of them at a party. They seem pretty 'intense'. They're so smart and so committed, and get to hang out with the smartest people in the world, I'd feel lame and stoopid in their company. Maybe if they were really drunk and I was entirely sober I'd almost feel on their level.

    I think they're doing a very fine job of spending their money. If only governments were so thoughtful and diligent with how they spend budgets. Dream on ...

  10. You've been on my level most of the time...

  11. Tee hee, tee hee.

  12. Well Kath, a simple Google on "bill gates asperger's" finds 43000 or so results!

    Right you are.

    Some nice analysis by serious people too:

    "It's a familiar joke in the industry that many of the hardcore programmers in IT strongholds like Intel, Adobe, and Silicon Graphics - coming to work early, leaving late, sucking down Big Gulps in their cubicles while they code for hours - are residing somewhere in Asperger's domain. Kathryn Stewart, director of the Orion Academy, a high school for high-functioning kids in Moraga, California, calls Asperger's syndrome "the engineers' disorder."

    Bill Gates is regularly diagnosed in the press: His single-minded focus on technical minutiae, rocking motions, and flat tone of voice are all suggestive of an adult with some trace of the disorder. Dov's father told me that his friends in the Valley say many of their coworkers "could be diagnosed with ODD - they're odd." In Microserfs, novelist Douglas Coupland observes, "I think all tech people are slightly autistic."

    Though no one has tried to convince the Valley's best and brightest to sign up for batteries of tests, the culture of the area has subtly evolved to meet the social needs of adults in high-functioning regions of the spectrum. In the geek warrens of engineering and R&D, social graces are beside the point. You can be as off-the-wall as you want to be, but if your code is bulletproof, no one's going to point out that you've been wearing the same shirt for two weeks. Autistic people have a hard time multitasking - particularly when one of the channels is face-to-face communication. Replacing the hubbub of the traditional office with a screen and an email address inserts a controllable interface between a programmer and the chaos of everyday life. Flattened workplace hierarchies are more comfortable for those who find it hard to read social cues. A WYSIWYG world, where respect and rewards are based strictly on merit, is an Asperger's dream."

  13. But then there is this analysis of the published "evidence", written by someone who is autistic, and yes, this gels with my own conclusions & reading about Gates over the years.

    A grasping at anecdotes, while ignoring entirely the overwhelming evidence that doesn't support the case - http://tinyurl.com/a9rev9.

    Broader pieces, such as that quoted above, are more informed and challenging than the attempts to buttonhole Gates.