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The Daily Devil’s Dictionary: Gates Foundation and “Equity”

Gates Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill Gates, Melinda Gates, philanthropy, philanthropists, nonprofits, nonprofit organizations, nonprofit causes, social benefit organizations

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February 26, 2018 18:29 EDT

The Gates have pulled off a kind of optical illusion by using equity to advance social equity (fairness) in a way that is, by their own admission, not “fair.”

Bill and Melinda Gates have either discovered or simply admitted that they have an unfair advantage over ordinary people (i.e. non-billionaires). A reader might even get the impression that they are at the point of being ashamed of this asymmetric state of affairs. As Melinda Gates bravely points out, “It’s not fair that we have so much wealth when billions of others have so little. And it’s not fair that our wealth opens doors that are closed to most people.”

Not only is it not fair, but in the same article we learn that it contradicts the stated purpose of their philanthropic work. “We do this work, and use whatever influence we have, to help as many people as possible and to advance equity around the world.” Their tagline is, “All lives have equal value”

Rarely does the radical ambiguity of a single term, “equity,” so dramatically illustrate the contradictions of today’s economy and the profound injustice of a social system where money — not people — makes most of the important decisions.

Here is today’s 3D definition, bringing together the two separate meanings of the term:


The value of financial assets that make some people more equal than others regarding their influence on politics and social organization, which proves that nothing makes equity between people more unattainable than the equity some people hold

Contextual note

When consulting an ordinary dictionary to define equity, we have a choice between the idea of “Fairness and impartiality towards all concerned” and “Ownership interest or claim of a holder of common stock (ordinary shares) and some types of preferred stock (preference shares) of a company.”

The Gates have pulled off a kind of optical illusion by using equity (the value of Bill’s stake in Microsoft) to advance social equity (fairness) in a way that is, by their own admission, not “fair.” We might, in our turn, ask if it wouldn’t be fair to sum this up as “an unfair practice designed to promote fairness.”

There’s clearly something foul in this state of fairness.

Historical note

There was a time, less than 20 years ago, when the media complained that Bill Gates was the only prominent multi-billionaire not to put his money in philanthropic causes. It had even become an annual source of scandal when the Forbes list of philanthropists was published, drawing remarks such as this in 1998: “Bill Gates, in particular, has come under increasing fire for not shoveling a substantially greater share of his $40 billion fortune into nonprofit causes.”

So, given the paradox of acknowledging that they have an unfair advantage while at the same time exploiting that advantage as self-proclaimed “impatient optimists working to reduce inequity,” what do they recommend as corrective action? Bill offers the answer: “learn constantly, and seek out different viewpoints.”

It sounds a lot like what we do at Fair Observer, where our mission is to encourage learning about different viewpoints. It also means never settling into a single perspective, the sin of all totalitarians.

In all sincerity, we’re at their disposal.

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: ibreakstock /

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