“Mitchell Layton had inherited a quarter of a billion dollars and had spent the thirty-three years of his life trying to make amends for it.” (The Fountainhead, p. 579, Centennial edition)
The estimated personal worth of Bill Gates, age 49, chairman of Microsoft, the 4th largest company in the world, is $50 billion, all of it earned, not inherited, and he has proposed devoting the balance of his life making amends for it. Bill Gates announced yesterday that he will be spending less time running Microsoft and more time to his charity work, “giving back” to the world.
Let us say that Gates somehow manages to conquer malaria without the benefit of using DDT. Fifty million children are saved. Then what? What are they going to do with their lives and health on a continent plagued by dictatorships, poverty, and corruption?
Gates believes in “giving back” his billions. His Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is endowed with $30 billion. In another quarter, President Bush is motivated by the same altruist morality, that Americans should be willing to help Iraq achieve “democracy” (fallaciously equated with freedom) and sacrifice their lives in the effort. His program is tentatively projected to cost $500 billion, and rising. Making Iraq “safe for democracy” will somehow ensure America’s security.
Pouring wealth down the bottomless pit of Africa or Iraq will not accomplish “good.” Doing “good” without the least thought of in what context and circumstance the “good” might actually have some tangible, beneficial results will have no results, or results that are inimical for all concerned parties. (The youth of Saudi Arabia, for example, benefit physically from billions in oil revenues; having no purpose in life, most turn into murdering jihadists.) Apparently Gates has devoted little or no thought to the necessary conditions that would ensure that children did not starve, contract AIDS, or succumb to malaria, just as Bush has devoted little or no thought to the conditions necessary to ensure any country’s freedom, prosperity, and well-being.
One would think that such an elemental fact would occur to someone as bright as Bill Gates. But, one of the pernicious effects of an altruist morality in an otherwise rational and productive mind is that it necessarily, fundamentally, and incrementally dissolves the causal connections that lead to rational conclusions. Gates would not pour a fortune into the development of a software program that not only would not work, but also be proven to damage or destroy an operating system or computer hardware. But he will spend his fortune to “do good” without the least consideration of what causes the “bad.”
Altruism divorces the real world from the moral world, which is believed to be on a “higher plane” but somehow can influence the real world. To Gates, there is no connection between freedom, property rights, and the sanctity of the individual and the prosperity and well-being these things can make possible. He sees misery, starvation, and disease in Africa and other “undeveloped” regions of the world, and believes that money, not freedom, will eradicate them.
Gates’s father, William Gates, recently appeared in the news to argue strenuously against the temporary repeal of the blatantly confiscatory estate tax by Congress, righteously claiming that wealth is a “privilege,” that the wealthy actually have little right to arrange for the disposal of their fortunes on their decease, and that the government had a responsibility to tax it away for society’s sake as a form of “giving back.” One can imagine that Bill, his son, has been moral putty in the father’s hands. One is tempted to cast him as an Ellsworth Toohey, and almost tempted to pity Bill Gates.
Asked in an interview which he would like to be remembered for, Microsoft or his charity work, Bill Gates replied that he didn’t think it was important what he was remembered for, just as long as “good” was done. He answered the question, which startled him, almost immediately, with no evidence of offense or pride in his manner.
The news media stressed that Gates wishes to give his money away to programs that produce “results.” The media also lauded Gates as a marvelous example to American children and young adults who are attracted to “volunteerism.” I do not know the details of his purpose in pouring money into our ravenously wasteful and destructive education system (other than to introduce children to technology), but if that program is motivated by the same altruist spirit, the only lasting result will be the inculcation of more “selfless” ciphers, the Brown Shirts and self-sacrificers (and sacrificers of others) of tomorrow.
It is no cultural coincidence that the American Film Institute recently voted, out of one hundred candidates, that the most inspiring is “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the Frank Capra “classic” about a man, George Bailey, who surrenders his ambition to the needs of his “community.” Bill Gates is another George Bailey. Reality emulates art again.
It is the daunting task of reason to destroy once and for all the myth that the selfless man is an exemplar of morality, beginning with Robin Hood and ending to date with Bill Gates. Ayn Rand was so right that Immanuel Kant and his numerous yea-sayers over the centuries are man’s most evil nemeses.