I just can’t shake off a feeling of disgust and dread after learning earlier this week about Bill Gates' $4 million donation to
I just sent off letters to Diane Ravitch, Gerald Bracey, Jay Matthews, Richard Rothstein, Phil Kovacs and David Berliner, and I’m planning to send ones to a good number of elected politicians as well. I suppose I just don’t care if any of them think I’m a little nuts.
This is an example of what I wrote in my email message to the people above. The email subject line was: “Gates influence over NYC schools and beyond.”
I hope your summer has gone well. Today I'm writing to you about a specific concern. Of course you'll probably be aware of it, but since you have a national voice, I’m just trying to do my part by asking if you might somehow eventually help bring it to the attention of more Americans.
I am deeply concerned after learning about Bill Gates' $4 million donation that specifically paid for the propaganda which pushed for preserving mayoral control in NYC. This one incident is telling us volumes.
This country needs to call for limits to be put on this man; his near-infinite wealth gives him a frightening amount of power. NO single American, no matter how rich or smart they are, or well-intentioned they tell everyone they are – or think they might be – should have that much power. Gates is only one person, with one set of ideas, but he is so vastly wealthy that he can purchase whatever educational policy he wants, either local or national. What if the way to go that Gates imagines is right, is completely wrong?
Putting it in perspective, consider that for Gates (with a net worth now listed by Forbes as $40 billion) a $4 million donation is the equivalent of a $5 donation given by a person who is making $50,000. In the sphere where PUBLIC policy is determined, Gates has become omnipotent. But this country is still supposed to be a democracy, right?
We’re in highly dangerous territory when single individuals are unrestrained with buying public policy because they have unimaginable wealth. Where is the transparency? Where are the restrictions? Even political campaigns have those rules!
Remember the NY Times article that talked about how the modern-day philanthropists now expect to see specific returns from their gifts? That manipulative approach makes Carnegie seem so nice. What was ever wrong with giving beautiful libraries to needy communities?
This whole thing is extremely scary and I hope you’ll consider helping with spreading the word. Thanks for listening.
PS: I think the problem is connected to the fact that we, as average people, can’t fathom the wealth of the billionaires. Even lesser billionaires would have an incredible amount of power over anything at which they directed their wealth, be it good or evil. There are no checks or balances.
For instance, if Michael Bloomberg ($16 billion) paid $4 million to buy propaganda that pushed a public policy he preferred, it would be the equivalent of an average person (net worth of $50,000) donating $12.50 to a cause he/she preferred. And if Eli Broad ($5.2 billion) paid $4 million to buy propaganda that pushed a public policy he preferred, it would be the equivalent of an average person (net worth of $50,000) donating $38.46 to a cause he/she preferred.
I do realize that some people temper their criticism of Gates because they appreciate some of the work that the Gates Foundation has supported. I suppose I can accept this, but my concern still stands about Gates having achieved some level of near-omnipotence in regard to education policy on both local and national levels.
When it's so easy for one person to make such a large private donation to be used directly for propaganda, how can others compete?
As the Post article said:
The donation helped pay for Learn-NY's extensive public-relations, media and lobbying efforts in
and the city. The effort include [sic] advertisements, parent organizing and canvassing -- including a five-borough bus tour and trips to the state capital. Albany
In other words, much of the grassroot support for mayoral control wasn’t genuine; it was either heavily orchestrated or manufactured. This makes me sick.
Imagine if $4 million wasn't going to be enough to push through what Gates wanted. It would have meant nothing to him to toss in another $4, $6 or $20 million their way. In other words, he could easily supply whatever it would take to make his dream come true.
Consider the insignificance of the relative values of those amounts to him. For instance, if your personal net worth is around $50,000, it wouldn’t be that hard for you to unload another $5 or $10 if you believed in a cause and knew that the extra $5 or $10 would make things go your way. It's about the cost of a sandwich.
This issue is about relativity and scale; it's way too easy for Gates to utterly overwhelm everyone else. One person who can afford to donate $4 million to a cause buys the same amount of influence as 800,000 people of average income who would donate $5. That many people is just under the size of the population of the 12th or 13th largest American cities (San Francisco, CA at 808,976 and Jacksonville, FL at 807,815).
The problem with what Gates is doing is its unfathomable scale, of a size that's relatively new on the American scene. It's just not okay.Or should we all just give up now?