Sunday, 24 June 2007

"Money" published June 24

Bill Gates has been listening to me. Finally someone with heaps of money has decided to make a full-time career out of philanthropy rather than build enormous houses, buy up chunks of beach and drive fast cars. The richest man in the world aims to take his money and his mind and do something about the worldwide crises we have in areas of sickness, death, ignorance and illiteracy. And as hard as I tried I couldn’t find funding for the War on Terror or a Microsoft yacht in the next America’s Cup challenge anywhere on his list.
Unlike that other rich guy Larry Ellison, who reportedly spent a quarter of a billion on his syndicate for the America’s Cup challenge and all those other rich people ( including the New Zealand Government) who by my calculation will have thrown into the America’s Cup pot close on $3 billion. Just so that a few of the world’s elite can get a short term thrill of some yachts going really, really fast. Isn’t Pirates of the Caribbean 3 on where they live?
It’s not hard to find out what $3 billion could have done for the world. It could have given food to some of the world’s 2.2 billion children who live in poverty. Or how about doing something for the 815 million people in developing countries who are suffering from acute hunger and the 10 million who will die of hunger each year? *
If you’re still reading then it’s safe to assume you are a realist or you are one of those boring Aucklanders who shout at me: “The America’s Cup created the Viaduct you moron!” as if that is something we can be proud of. A strip of bars where 17-year-old Westies practise being Paris Hilton watched by men in property development who have far too many white striped shirts in their wardrobe. Thank you America’s Cup for your cultural input, and next time you come let me take you on a day trip to South Auckland where people die because they can’t pay the power bill.
Now back to the realists. We’re the kind of crazy cats who talk about creating a future rather than killing it. About preservation, conservation, renewing, reducing … that sort of thing. Admittedly we tend to be middle class wankers who think that taking our own bags to Foodtown and donating to charity will save the world while we pay off our mortgages and plan our next world trip. But at least we are aware and prepeared to do more if needed which has to be better than living for the momentary thrill of piling material possessions one on top of the other in our own personal financial wasteland.
But the best bit about Bill is that someone who basically rules the world has stood up and said there’s nothing wrong with capitalism but there is something very wrong with greed. How many possessions does it take for a wealthy man to be satisfied? Can you not live with one of everything? Of course you can. And suddenly eccentric people like me who live in Grey Lynn, grow our own organic veges, sign petitions and buy books called Beyond Terror, The Truth About the Real Threats to Our World look a bit more normal.. No longer are we marginalised as greenie, hippy nutters who should have a bath and drive a real car. No longer is it just mad old Bono jumping up and down about the state of the world. Bill is leading the charge, and Bill may not be cool but he’s clever. Perhaps in mansions, super yachts and boardrooms around the world people might start to feel a little embarrassed about their wealth and set some aside for the planet.
Meanwhile back in New Zealand we still have children growing up in poverty. One in five say some, a quarter of all households say others. Either way you cut it we have food banks, breakfasts provided in some schools, overcrowded living conditions and the emergence of third world diseases. Not to mention our appalling domestic violence and child abuse record and the emergence of a phrase called “corporate manslaughter.” All point to poverty. But you can’t see all that from the Viaduct, so it mustn’t be happening. Tell that to Bill next time you see him. You could save him a fortune.

*Statistics from Beyond Terror, The Truth About the Real Threats to Our World, by Chris Abbott, Paul Rogers and John Sloboda. Published by Random House.

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