Irreconcilable differences: philanthropy and capitalism

The clue to the Gates’ breakup may have been given in an interview with Bloomberg less than a month ago.

Melinda Gates was asked for her assessment of the Covid vaccine rollout. She said it had been progressing well in high income countries. But not nearly so well in low income countries.

She said it was in her words, “disturbing.”

Fast forward to this week. Bill Gates, the other half of the Gates Foundation, said he was not in favor of sharing vaccine formulae to third parties. Citing the need to protect manufacturing standards.

But his critics have been critical in saying the refusal protects the rights of the vaccine patent holders. Thereby maximizing their profits. And these profits come at the expense of an increasing health risk to hundreds of thousands or even millions of people trying to survive a lethal viral epidemic.

Two individuals. Both named Gates. With a suggestion they see the vaccine rollout to low income countries totally differently.

The manner of the vaccine rollout may not have anything to do with the breakup of the world’s most celebrated couple.

But even if it doesn’t. It raises an important question: When capitalism is entwined with philanthropy, who calls the shots? (no pun intended).

Supporters of those who say drug manufacturers have to be supported even in the throes of a pandemic argue if we don’t support vaccine manufacturers financially where will the vaccines of the future come from? Fair point.

Supporters of those who say drug companies must forgo profits now to save lives and shorten the lifespan of the pandemic argue that humanitarian needs trump the needs of profitability. Also a fair point.

From society’s point of view the question becomes does there need to be a mechanism created in the public interest to control the role of free enterprise in global health emergencies such as pandemics?

Interestingly, this issue arises at a time when the world’s richest and most powerful individuals inside and outside of government meet prepare to meet in Switzerland.

The World Economic Forum will discuss, among other things, a plan to attack on a global basis, problems which appear to be beyond the scope and reach of governments to deal with. Namely global warming and global pandemics.

Bill Gates has been an active member of the WEF. And it will be interesting to see if the narrative at that time has found parallels between the irreconcilable differences in his marriage. And the irreconcilable differences between capitalism and philanthropy.

Former syndicated columnist; former political speechwriter; former media head for a Fortune 500 company.