Gatesian Corruption
The 3rd Letter of an Autonomous Thinker

Amsterdam, October 30 2000

Dear reader, 

You may think there is a world of difference between the former Indonesian president Suharto and the present president of Microsoft Bill Gates. You may be wrong.
Both are (were) leading a huge multinational firm.
Both are in an extremely powerful position.
Both produce many useful products - for example oil, rice and wood in Indonesia and Word and Windows in the West.
Both amassed enormous fortunes - Gates a lot more and in a shorter time than Suharto did.
Of course there is the issue of human rights, but in the case of Indonesia it only arose when Suharto was very old and at the end of his reign. And Suharto reigned over more than two hundred million people while Gates reigns over a much smaller group of selected humans. By the way we know from the example of Nike and child labour that Western conglomerates are not that nice.
Anyhow Suharto is seen as a corrupt politician who enriched himself, his family and his friends, Gates is seen as a successful businessman who however also enriched himself and his friends.

You can wonder which of these two prominent members of the world elite is the more corrupt person. Both used their power to amass much more then what is decent in business. In the past it was quite normal to be satisfied with 5 percent profit, now multinationals want to earn 20 , 25 or even more percent. Microsoft sold in the third quarter of 2000 products worth 5.8 billion dollars by revenues of 2.6 billion dollars. Nearly 45 % profit. It this reasonable or is this just plain fraud? The self-appointed industrial tycoons and not the chosen politicians decide about the percentages. It seems the rich want ever more profit, it seems they are never rich enough - and remember, for a few billion dollars many child illnesses can be eradicated.

Corruption is the use of a powerful position to get more benefit for oneself or the own group. This description resembles my definition of an elite. An elite is a social group that possesses most of the power, has the best financial position and has the possibility to transfer this power and wealth to its progeny. Elite and corruption are two members of the same family.
Our elitist democracy is thoroughly corrupt and corrupt leaders are virtually invulnerable. Do also remember that what we call big criminals often mix with the affluent top of the society. The brothers Cray went around in the highest English circles, Al Capone was a welcome guest in the festivities of the American elite. Maybe the only difference between these people is that Al Capone participated in some killings, industrial leaders let others do the killing.

The struggle between different parts of the elite is sometimes violent (for example by killing several thousand masspeople in the arrest of president Noriega of Panama who usurped too much money through the trade in drugs) but most of the time the law is used. Democracy is the system in which members of the elite can settle their differences in a peaceful manner. See also chapter 5 of "The Scarists" about democracy and chapter 6 about elections. When masspeople want a bigger share of the wealth they are met by the violence of the state. The lesser fry are cooked, the big fishes are allowed to continue to swim. The shah of Iran and the corrupt leader of Zaire were allowed to stay in a Western country when they were ousted. For the masses that are chased by the elite it becomes ever more difficult to get political asylum.

I have only one answer to this unequal situation. Let the masses attack the corrupt people. In The elite under fire I describe a small action against Bill Gates. One swallow does not make a summer, but every swallow can be the start of a swarm that will make the continuation of the present privileged position of the elite unbearable.

Yours truly, Joost van Steenis

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4. Who is guilty?
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