Monday, August 1, 2011

Bill Gates: When Good Intentions Meet Total Cluelessness

Bill Gates and his charitable foundation have been working to reform the public education system for years now. The result? Utter failure and a hint of despair (WSJ):
"It's been about a decade of learning," says the Microsoft co-founder whose Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is now the nation's richest charity. Its $34 billion in assets is more than the next three largest foundations (Ford, Getty and Robert Wood Johnson) combined, and in 2009 it handed out $3 billion, or $2 billion more than any other donor. Since 2000, the foundation has poured some $5 billion into education grants and scholarships.
"But the overall impact of the intervention, particularly the measure we care most about—whether you go to college—it didn't move the needle much," he says. "Maybe 10% more kids, but it wasn't dramatic. . . . We didn't see a path to having a big impact, so we did a mea culpa on that." Still, he adds, "we think small schools were a better deal for the kids who went to them."
A decade of learning. And just what is it that Bill Gates has learned over the last decade?
Asked to critique these endeavors, Mr. Gates demurs: "I applaud people for coming into this space, but unfortunately it hasn't led to significant improvements." He also warns against overestimating the potential power of philanthropy. "It's worth remembering that $600 billion a year is spent by various government entities on education, and all the philanthropy that's ever been spent on this space is not going to add up to $10 billion. So it's truly a rounding error."

This understanding of just how little influence seemingly large donations can have has led the foundation to rethink its focus in recent years. Instead of trying to buy systemic reform with school-level investments, a new goal is to leverage private money in a way that redirects how public education dollars are spent.
Oh good grief! The man has learned nothing but thinks he has learned that there simply isn't enough money being thrown at the problem. It begs the question whether there ever could be.

Bill Gates has billions of dollars in his foundation and yet it does him no good because he's coming at the problem all wrong. He's trying to fix something that isn't broken. He is operating off the flawed premise that public education is a.) meant to educate (defined as, what?) and b.) can actually fulfill that objective in a state of calculational chaos.

What is Bill Gates's problem-solving methodology?
"I believe in innovation and that the way you get innovation is you fund research and you learn the basic facts."
Great news, Bill! The work has been done for you, the research already funded, the basic facts laid out and a real solution comes with it all. The best part? It won't cost you a penny!

Here's your homework assignment, Little Billy. Happy reading!


  1. I'm not even sure his intentions are good. He's become a full blown Bilderberging oligarch.

  2. BobE,

    I kind of regretted this post as soon as I published it because it was over-the-top snarky and vindictive and implicitly impugned the man's motives. My first draft actually included reference to the idea that if someone just keeps trying the same failed methodology for solving a problem and seems to be totally unaware or routinely ignorant of an actual solution, it may be that his stated intentions and true intentions are at a divergence.

    But I ended up cutting that out because I thought, "I've already one-man dog-piled this poor guy enough, don't need to call him a rat bastard on top of being uniformed and possibly stupid."

    Luckily, you have rode in to save the day in this regard!

    I did also think about pointing out that the man has been totally captured by the political class-- even if he's aware of the real solution, he's either too fearful of getting aced or too fearful of losing prestige in elite circles to tell the truth or act honestly. Either way it's a poor showing for the character of Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft.

    It is truly curious, and sad, when people who have so improved the world through their voluntary works and personal creativity, suddenly become entranced with the idea of clubbing every social problem to death with the inarticulate, clumsy hammer of government.

    (Yes, I know MSFT has partially built its software empire -- and profitability -- on intellectual property rights interventions.)

    Still, I regret my tone. I don't think Bill Gates would find himself being thoughtful and considerate about his errors of reasoning if he were to come by and read it, and I don't think anyone who is on the fence on this topic will have learned anything or found me to be an agreeable enough intellectual guide on this topic to consider hopping over to freedom. All I've done is given the people who think as I do a reason to nod approvingly and the people who don't think as I do another reason to consider me to be an "ideological" moron and a jerk, besides.

    Dale Carnegie would be ashamed of my behavior here. I endeavor to do better next time! Meanwhile, I stand by my words, harsh and uninstructive as they are.

  3. "All I've done is given the people who think as I do a reason to nod approvingly and the people who don't think as I do another reason to consider me to be an "ideological" moron and a jerk, besides."

    That thought crosses my mind frequently.

  4. BobE,

    About me or about you or us writing about this stuff in general?

    The way I see it is this-- some people can't see the truth and others refuse to. You can't worry yourself about them. Some people will get it if it's presented "reasonably" to them. If you start by insulting their intelligence for thinking differently they might become defensive and stubborn rather than considerate and engaging. At best you delay their transition, at worse you spur them to never do so.

    Either way, it probably doesn't make good sense to be impolite.

    For me, easier said than done.

  5. Taylor, I'm not quite sure what you're trying to accomplish by writing these pieces, except trying to gain "fame" by trolling for emotions and comments.

    These kind of pieces do not add "value" to society except for entertainment values. For that, I would recommend pursuing a venue where the goal is to entertain, such as magic. Please leave your fairly worthless comments in the toilet, where it belongs.

  6. DTS,

    What I was trying to accomplish was to criticize the strategy for "reforming education" that Bill Gates employs, by arguing that "education isn't broken". The implication is that Bill Gates is going about his reform attempt all wrong because he has set out to do something which can't be done.

    Which part of my argument did you disagree with, and why?

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