All lives are equal
A few years ago Bill Gates persuaded Warren Buffet to contribute to the Gates Foundation and so create the biggest single pile of philanthropic cash in history. This was quite something. Currently, an asset base of over $37 billion is available generating cash to spend on things that Bill, and presumably Melinda and Warren, think are important for the public good.
This is spending greater than the annual GDP of over 100 countries on the UN list. No small matter. And it is a spend that would otherwise not happen because governments or other donors claim they don’t have the cash.
So what did Bill choose? What activities were seen as the highest priority among the many thousands of options?
Even a cursory scan of projects the Gates Foundation supports tells the story. Bill, Melinda and Warren spent money on people. Mostly on activities that improved the lives of poorer people by making them healthier, giving them opportunity and education. All are noble things.
And as a friend of mine once reminded me when I was lamenting the crazy rate of human population growth, you cannot blame the kids for being born. You have to help them.
And so there is a moral imperative to do something for the 4 billion or so people who live on $2 a day or less, have little or no health care, struggle to feed, clothe and educate their children, often with very little hope for anything better.
The philanthropic spend has to be on people.
Governments blinded by GDP growth should take note.
But this is not the point of this post.
Humans have taken over the world. And in it, they have created a highly inequitable and competitive system that by definition generates haves and have-nots. In this place a philanthropic focus on people is understandable. There is always suffering and a powerful need to relieve it.
There is enough suffering to soak up the Gates billions a thousand times over. It is an unpleasant but inevitable consequence of the human condition, a symptom of a much deeper problem.
We are more making creatures.
Our biology drives us harder than we think. Those of us born as ‘haves’ do not notice this very often because with wealth, more making is curtailed somewhat. A couple of kids is usually enough when income is more than $100 a day.
Instead, we channel more making into having more. We gather goods, comforts and money with extraordinary voracity even as we claim moderation and make a charitable donation.
I wrestle with my own complicity in this every day because it is a hard one to shift when there are so many opportunities for things to get better… for me. In a blink and a modest interest-free monthly payment a perfectly functional television and TiVo becomes a 55-inch smart screen and Netflix.
And unbeknownst to us, the more making instinct is soothed. Somehow I feel a little better. Certainly, I feel better enough not to worry about the billions of people the Gates Foundation wants to help because ‘all lives are equal’.
Except it is hard to see equality. Turns out that I will use far more resources than most by good fortune at birth. Most others will use a lot less, again by birth as much as anything. And yet all the people in the world would use more than they do given half a chance.
So despite obvious inequalities of wealth and opportunity, all lives share equal intent. We all want to be more.