In a recent interview, megatron philanthropist Melinda Gates backhandedly illuminated Big Philanthropy’s persistent antagonism towards the procreation of brown people and development into a global “shadow bureaucracy.”
While discussing her efforts to get 120 million more women on chemical contraception by 2020, Gates emphasized her concern that their use of these be “voluntary.” It matters so much to her that Gates has funded a global data system to track women’s use of contraception and other health measures.
Every six months, Gates says, she gets an Excel file that allows her to track women’s contraceptive use across the globe: “I can tell you which countries are doing well in terms of their supply chain, which ones need fixing… We demand that now in pretty much all of our projects.”
Who elected Melinda Gates to the role of global contraception czar? Mmm, right, no one. Yet she has this power simply because she helps steer the wealthiest philanthropy in the world, and because governments are willing to compromise their citizens’ rights to self-rule and privacy in order to get her money. Is the money worth that loss of priceless human freedoms? It’s worth asking.
Money is power, and government is power, so the two mutually attract. But basic American political theory holds that power concentrated is dangerous to human dignity and individual rights. Every American with or near power ought to take this seriously. Gates ought to ask herself whether she has a right to impose her desires using government force, even if that force appears in the form of a nudge. That’s exactly what her contraceptive initiative does: reframe the social and economic factors in the Third World according to the modern West’s anti-child, extreme individualist proclivities.
For decades, uber-wealthy people such as the Rockefellers and Fords have put gobs of money into keeping poor people from reproducing, which reeks of not just eugenics but a cruel effort to rob the poor, both physically and psychologically, of one of their central sources of joy and social capital: family. As sociologist Kathryn Edin and ethnographer Maria Kefalas’s work has recently shown: “for a young woman with few attractive options, a baby becomes a powerful source of identity and purpose in life.” Gates’ initiative aims to substitute her vision of happiness for this one. To her Western, college-educated, rich-lady eyes, women are really empowered when they leave all this primitive childbearing stuff aside to expand businesses and hold “sit-ins” and “go to the government and demand services.” But what gives her the right to play God?
Just Because You Can Do Something Doesn’t Mean You Should
Reframing a person’s circumstances and options can be as totalitarian as outright using police power to force them to do things, as anyone who has seen “The Truman Show” can understand. What right Gates has to use her money to direct public policy according to her personal priorities is a major question she and other progressive do-gooding multibillionaires such as Mark Zuckerberg should be required to answer by anyone who has the opportunity and public interests at heart. When asked, these givers typically fall back on the “Newark didn’t have to take my money” kind of defense, but in court someone who bribes or even just pressures another into “an offer you can’t refuse” is held liable for that influence. Public opinion should do the same.
“Shadow bureaucracy” is the term Michigan State University political scientist Sarah Reckhow gave Gates and similar foundations after studying their education policy work. Today’s major philanthropies focus not just on basic, practical giving such as expanding the charitable work of existing organizations or handing out malaria nets, but on influencing and harnessing the coercive power of government to shape laws and regulations in the ways these givers think necessary.
This, in turn, diminishes the representative nature of government and enhances the administrative state by making it more responsive to a tiny number of self-congratulatory financiers rather than to the public at large. Today’s philanthropists not only use their own money to accomplish their own desires, but to influence how the rest of us are allowed to spend ours and make other life choices. Common Core — which the Gates Foundation almost single-handedly made possible — is a particularly pungent case study of this dynamic, and you can find all about it in my forthcoming book from Encounter.
Our laws currently allow philanthropists to do this sort of soft political advocacy under the guise of charity, which means they get tax breaks for using my government to force me not just to do what they want but also to pay for it. Other researchers have called this emerging model “advocacy philanthropy.” People with money to spend and bright visions of a brave new world see government as a tool they can rent to immanentize the eschaton. This is why it’s crucial for informed citizens to “follow the money” so that the social and political priorities of people like Bill and Melinda Gates aren’t allowed to crowd out ours.
Consent By the Managed
Gates says her massive initiative is responding to what women in the developing world say they want. Have 120 million women really said they consent to have Melinda Gates know the results of ongoing private medical questionnaires that, if they had taken place in the United States, would be subject to medical privacy laws that would bar her access to this information? Do they consent to the myriad global public health initiatives that will inevitably result and ratchet only in one direction (progressive social welfarism)? Do they consent to the reality that their government’s outsider-directed attention to birth control must necessarily result in diminished resources for other initiatives that may be more important to those countries’ citizens?
Further, will these 120 million women be informed that the birth control Gates mentioned in this interview—Depo-Provera, one her foundation is helping refine into self-administered doses for broader distribution—by its own chemical description thins a woman’s uterine lining so that any embryo formed cannot implant and therefore dies? What happens in that case is not preventing conception but killing a genetically distinct human being.
Will these women be informed that 55 percent of the women who use Depo-Provera for a year, and 68 percent who use it for two years, will stop having periods altogether? That it has a strong connection to bone loss and osteoporosis, as well as the life-threatening blood clots common to chemical contraception, and that more than a third of women on Depo-Provera gain significant extra weight? That women who go off Depo-Provera often have difficulty conceiving for 18 months after they’ve stopped using it?
Perhaps. They certainly should. But it’s hard not to wonder what other unintended consequences Gates’s well-meaning philanthropy will have—especially in the context of Africa, which has a well-known history of westerners flooding their markets with Western solutions to sex-related problems that displace local problem-solving attuned to local sensitivities, needs, and contexts. Yes, I’m talking about AIDS. The Western solution to that horrific disease was dumping bucketloads of condoms on the continent, at great cost and effort but to little effect. Besides the ineffectiveness of this effort to reduce existing disease, the moral hazard prompted when giving people the illusion of “safe sex” when “safe” has been rejiggered to really mean “infertile” leads to increased promiscuity, which obviously expands rather than contracts rates of sexually transmitted infections.
The Accumulation of Power Is a Dangerous Thing
Further, Gates’s acceleration of contraception’s spread across the world is not merely a technical change akin to upgrading the operating system on a computer. Her Catholic faith teaches this elevation of the human person beyond the level of objectified machines—“I’m still a practicing Catholic,” she said at AEI—but apparently her definition of “practicing” doesn’t include “limiting myself by what my church teaches.”
That’s a pity, because a refusal to abide by internal or external limits is precisely the underlying problem here. Contraception has fueled a social revolution in the developed world that has ended up with all people, but especially women and children, far worse for the wear, as Mary Eberstadt and others have argued, backed up with mountains of data. Gates says “women’s empowerment” is one of her deepest desires, but she’s pushing the very thing that reams of data demonstrate has deeply undermined women’s health, wealth, power, and happiness.
“We believe deeply in data and rigor and analytics,” Gates said. So why does she ignore the social and economic effects of widespread chemical contraception use in the Western world, especially given the massive demographic crisis it has spawned? This is a world problem that will affect billions of people, yet it seems nowhere in Gates’s calculations.
That’s probably because no one person, much less a series of committees, can calculate all the long-term global effects of massively increasing contraceptive access or conducting any other massive social experiment (such as Common Core). This reality has long debunked central planning. Bolstering that experience is the longstanding yet eroding Western political tradition of limited government: because when one person has too much power, the temptation to use it poorly is usually too much to resist. Curiously enough, that’s also a major argument against blanket use of chemical contraception.