Bill Gates and George Soros, two of the world’s wealthiest people, have had similar career trajectories. Both earned enormous financial success with what many considered dubious methods, and both ended their careers as self-described philanthropists, giving away most of their money to selected causes. But despite their superficial similarities, their approaches to philanthropy are like day and night. Comparing them teaches us about their goals and priorities.
Throughout their careers, they have been subject to major controversies. Microsoft founder Gates constantly was harangued as an evil monopolist who engaged in predatory business practices. In the 1999 movie Pirates of Silicon Valley, he was portrayed as akin to a con artist. [perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=”24″]You can’t get more hands-on and down to earth than that.[/perfectpullquote]
Around the same time, Soros made headlines as a ruthless speculator, and in 1992 he became known as “the man who broke the Bank of England.” In 1997, then-Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad accused Soros of precipitating the Asian financial crisis.
These accusations were largely baseless. Microsoft’s business practices pale in comparison to the discriminatory behavior of modern tech giants like Google, Twitter, and Facebook, and Soros correctly pointed out that incompetence and unsustainable policies caused the Asian financial crisis. He did not create it, only exposed the inherent weaknesses.
In 2000, Gates launched and transferred most of his wealth to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a massive philanthropic endeavor to make the world a better place. Gates’ language and stated positions are left-leaning, of course. The foundation declares that “we are impatient optimists working to reduce inequity.” Its efforts aim to mitigate poverty, disease, and illiteracy with technological and hands-on social projects, not with political meddling.
Recently, Gates unveiled the result of many years of intense research and the investment of millions of dollars: an innovative, affordable toilet for people in the Third World who don’t have access to clean water and sewage.
You can’t get more hands-on and down to earth than that.
His projects are largely of a global character, targeting the weakest members of poverty-stricken societies. These include providing the poor access to financial tools, improving nutrition to reduce child deaths, and eradicating such horrible diseases as polio and malaria.
Gates does, however, have a special heart for his home state, Washington. There he is funding efforts to reduce poverty. To the degree he is focused on America, he promotes reducing polarization.
These are worthy philanthropic efforts that most people, regardless of political bent, easily approve.
By contrast, Soros’ Open Society Foundations largely focuses on funding political activists, many leaning far left. One of these is the Southern Poverty Law Center. Soros is concerned with combating racism in the United States, one of the least racist countries in the world.
He has promoted same-sex marriage in relatively gay-tolerant Taiwan but does not spend much on protecting gays in the most homophobic societies of the world, in the Middle East and Africa.
He also has funded activists who promote open borders into Europe and America but not into the Third World.
His website highlights his priorities: “When it comes to race, European justice is not blind”; “A perilous moment for transgender people in the United States”; “Ending racial bias in police stop and search” (U.K.).
Europe and the U.K. are among the least racist places in the world, and you must look hard to find a country where transgender people have more rights and better treatment than the United States.
Soros is a political activist first, philanthropist second.
Comparing Gates and Soros reveals a striking pattern. Gates spends his money where it does the most amount of good for most people; Soros targets Western political systems to benefit small groups of people.
Gates focuses on healing, mending, and bringing people together. He is acclaimed widely and supported by people across a broad political spectrum. By contrast, Soros fuels political conflict and strife, and almost everywhere he invests he is a polarizing figure. Many demonize Soros for his ominous activities, and the comparison with Gates shows that his critics are right to be skeptical.