« Who pays WHO? As this compelling POLITICO piece notes, ‘Over the past decade, the world’s richest man has become the World Health Organization’s second biggest donor, second only to the United States and just above the United Kingdom. This largesse gives him outsized influence over its agenda. The result, say his critics, is that Gates’ priorities have become the WHO’s. » The article unpacks what some of those « priorities » are, and what that means for us:
Some billionaires are satisfied with buying themselves an island. Bill Gates got a United Nations health agency in Geneva.
The billionaire was the first private individual to keynote WHO’s general assembly of member countries, and academics have coined a term for his sway in global health: the Bill Chill. Few people dare to openly criticize what he does. Most of 16 people interviewed on the topic would only do so on the condition of anonymity. ‘He is treated liked a head of state, not only at the WHO, but also at the G20,’ a Geneva-based NGO representative said, calling Gates one of the most influential men in global health.
The Gates Foundation has pumped more than $2.4 billion into the WHO since 2000, as countries have grown reluctant to put more of their own money into the agency, especially after the 2008 global financial crisis. Dues paid by member states now account for less than a quarter of WHO’s $4.5 billion biennial budget.
‘The foundation’s impact on the WHO is enormous,’ said Garrett, of the Council on Foreign Relations. ‘If they weren’t there, if they walked away with their money, the deleterious impact would be profound, and everyone is all too aware of that.’
Some health advocates fear that because the Gates Foundation’s money comes from investments in big business, it could serve as a Trojan horse for corporate interests to undermine WHO’s role in setting standards and shaping health policies.
But the foundation’s focus on delivering vaccines and medicines, rather than on building resilient health systems, has drawn criticism. And some NGOs worry it may be too close to industry.
In January, 30 health advocacy groups penned an open letter to WHO’s executive board protesting against making the Gates Foundation an official partner of the agency because its revenue comes from investments in companies that are at odds with public health goals, such as Coca-Cola. Despite the criticism, WHO’s board granted the Gates Foundation ‘official relations’ status.
Gates’ influence over the WHO was called into question once again during the race to succeed Chan as its director general. Last year, a French diplomat suggested that Gates supported Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, having funded health programs in his country when he was health minister. The final three candidates included Sania Nishtar, David Nabarro, and Tedros. Perhaps inevitably, Tedros won, duly elected on May 23 2020. » – Politico.
Gates has recently pushed for an even more draconian lockdown on the world’s economy: « Despite urging from public health experts, some states and counties haven’t shut down completely », the billionaire noted.
« In some states, beaches are still open; in others, restaurants still serve sit-down meals. This is a recipe for disaster. The country’s leaders need to be clear: Shutdown anywhere means shutdown everywhere. Until the case numbers start to go down across America — which could take 10 weeks or more — no one can continue business as usual or relax the shutdown. »
As MarketWatch reported, « Gates, who boasts a net worth of $103.4 billion, according to Forbes (making him the second wealthiest man in the world behind Amazon’s Jeff Bezos) has been one of the most vocal critics of the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic which has ravaged the domestic economy and brought most of the world’s business and personal activity to a screeching halt. In a March 31 op-ed in the Washington Post, the tech luminary advised more stringent closures to mitigate the spread of the deadly viral outbreak, saying ‘shutdown anywhere means shutdown everywhere’. »
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was also one of the main organisers of ‘Event 201’, a remarkable gathering of the world’s major business elites, together with the World Economic Forum (Davos), Johnson & Johnson, NBCUniversal, Lufthansa Group Airlines, and UPS, that met last October to plan for a global pandemic (the pandemic they picked, coincidentally, was coronavirus, which subsequently broke out several weeks later in China).
There are many concerns with Gates’ approach: one is that he understands diseases almost entirely in terms of technology, and vaccines – i.e., lucrative, left brain solutions to holistic, socially-embedded right brain realities.
This myopia is partly ideological – like many billionaires, he has a visceral dislike of anything that resembles « socialism », i.e. that recognises the deep social, relational aspects to wellbeing. Gates also clearly thinks in a peculiarly linear, technological, instrumentalist way, which as McGilchrist has shown, can be absolutely disastrous when applied to complex, reverberative situations, such as social health.
He also obsessively believes that the solution to the problems generated by science and technology is more science and technology. As Alain de Botton acutely observed in his examination of how news stories operate: « The news takes us through these terrible cycles of fear – constant fear, fear, fear, FEAR. And then of course the odd hope – and the hope is centred always around science and technology, so the new iPhone, the new pills for curing Alzheimers – always the idea that over the horizon there is some cure to the problems of life, the problems of existence. »
This is exactly the mindset of Gates: utterly limited, utterly fixated « around science and technology ». In a recent TED talk, this showed very clearly: « But in fact, we can build a really good response system », he noted, speaking of any future global response to a pandemic. « We have the benefits of all the science and technology that we talk about here. We’ve got cell phones to get information from the public and get information out to them. We have satellite maps where we can see where people are and where they’re moving. » I.e., Apple, Microsoft, and Google are the technological Messiahs that will save us, and the billionaire class who own them, and who relentlessly track and isolate us.
Indeed, just last month it was reported that « representatives from major technology companies — including Amazon, Google, and Facebook — met with officials at Downing Street, the residence of U.K. prime minister Boris Johnson » to discuss how to respond to the coronavirus outbreak in the UK. While « in Germany, politicians have come to a cross-party agreement to launch a smartphone app similar to the one pioneered in Singapore to help trace infections, despite public unease over digital surveillance.”
In Wuhan, « Chinese authorities harnessed big data to deploy facial recognition systems that detect high temperatures in crowds, track population movement using smartphone data, and create new artificial intelligence models for identifying people wearing masks. The government has encouraged citizens to monitor neighbors and report those suspected of carrying the virus.
In mid-March, the Washington Post reported that the US government was in talks with Facebook, Google, and other Silicon Valley companies about how geolocation information collected from smartphones could be used to map the spread of COVID-19 and determine if people were self-quarantining. »
These policies all seem to be following in line with the model set out by the Gates-sponsored World Economic Forum ‘Event 201’ last year, outlining how the world should respond to a coronavirus. « Donors, international financing institutions, global funds and philanthropies », it resolved, « must increase funding for the poorest and most vulnerable countries through development assistance”.
The key word in this statement is « society », which doesn’t appear once. For the super-rich, problems and systems should be managed by « international financing institutions » and billionaire « philanthropists ». It’s effectively a strategy to push out the public sector and the role of democratic governments – other than as an aid to channel the policies and dictates of the high and mighty. As the Politico piece noted, « the foundation’s focus is on delivering vaccines and medicines, rather than on building resilient health systems » – that is to say, it ends up profoundly weakening and ideologically infecting the actual social systems that can prevent and manage disease.
« We need a type of private/public collaboration that we have not generally had », observed Christopher Elias, also from the Bill Gates Foundation, at the Event. « During a severe pandemic, public sector efforts to control the outbreak are likely to become overwhelmed. Their efforts are chronically under-funded and lack sustained support. Global business leaders should play a far more dynamic role as advocates with a stake in stronger pandemic preparedness. »
That Gates has so much say over a world Health Organisation, which in turn has so much control over our response to pandemics, is deeply concerning. »
Lectures supplémentaires / complémentaires :
- Genieys, W. & Hassenteufel, P. (2012). Qui gouverne les politiques publiques : Par-delà la sociologie des élites. Gouvernement et action publique, vol. 1(2), 89-115.
- Du Gay, P. & Scott, A. (2011). Transformation de l’État ou changement de régime ? De quelques confusions en théorie et sociologie de l’État. Revue française de sociologie, vol. 52(3), 537-557.
- Boutillier, S. (2013). La crise de 1929 ou la leçon non apprise de l’histoire. Marché et organisations, 19(3), 13-30.
- La révolution commence-t-elle par le local ? Expérimentations communales et dilemmes stratégiques : « Éditorial. La révolution commence-t-elle par le local ? Expérimentations communales et dilemmes stratégiques », Mouvements, 2020/1 (n° 101), p. 7-11.
- Laville, J. (2015). Changement social et économie solidaire : les événements dans le processus de recherche. Nouvelle revue de psychosociologie, 19(1), 181-194.
- Petits arrangements avec la race dans les organisations internationales (1945-2019) : Geoffray, M. (2020). Mettre la peur à distance par la fabrique collective de la réflexivité. Critique internationale, 86(1), 141-164.
- Chamayou, G. (2015). Dans la tête de la NSA: Une histoire philosophique du renseignement américain. Revue du Crieur, 1(1), 20-39.
- Boussaguet, L., Jacquot, S. & Ravinet, P. (2019). Dictionnaire des politiques publiques: 5e édition entièrement revue et corrigée. Presses de Sciences Po.