Sunday, May 15, 2005

[geek][politics] Bill Gates' educational double-speak

Okay, perhaps more 'double-think' than 'double-speak', but still... I recently had this excellent op-ed piece in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer pointed out to me, and I felt that it highlighted a key dynamic in the maneuvers made by big business today, a dynamic repeatedly supported by the Republican enablers of our modern-day robber barons... Here are the first two paragraphs of the column:
In a recent speech before the National Education Summit on High Schools, Bill Gates spoke of the dismal state of U.S. public schools. He called for action: "We'd better do something about these kids not getting an education, because it is hurting us" and " ... because it is hurting them." He was speaking as co-chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where high moral purpose is combined with analytical skill to accomplish crucial work in world health and U.S. education. As chairman of Microsoft, however, Gates is responsible for a business policy that actively harms public schools. Microsoft maintains a small office in Reno, Nev. -- a state with no corporate income tax. Sixty billion dollars in licensing fees for Windows and Office software has passed through that office, and an estimated $300 million in taxes has been lost to Washington for the sale of products produced in Washington.
So... on the one hand our wealthiest citizens [*] tell government that current levels of education funding aren't cutting it, that we aren't spending enough to try and provide an intellectual infrastructure that will stand us in good stead in the face of growing global competition. Then on the other, they do everything in their power to reduce the amount of money that they pay that could fund those services. $40M, or approximately 15% of that $300M, would elevate Seattle's per-student school funding to more-or-less median national levels. How are we, as citizens, to make up that burden? I know that I certainly can't, as an individual, contribute $300M in revenue to WA's coffers. Yet this is the direction in which the GOP is pushing our country: less and less of the burden is to be borne by those citizens with the greatest ability to pay. Bill Gates is doing some excellent work with his personal fortune through the Gates Foundation, and I laud his stated goal of spending his kids' inheritance so that they'll have to work for a living. I view these as the actions that should be taken by a responsible citizen, particularly a citizen with the kind of revenue flow that Gates has. So why can't Microsoft (and other corporate citizens) behave similarly? After all, fully funding education should be in their long-term corporate interests, too. * By way of the word 'citizen', I'm definitely including corporations like Microsoft - if we're going to extend free speech protections to corporations, we bloody well better be expecting them to ante up in order to pay for the services and protections that work disproportionately to their benefit.[back]


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