This is a piece about the not-so-curiously skewed understanding of security which marks our political discourse:
When you cannot be bothered to ensure that the sick can access health care, people die. When you cannot be bothered to stop corporations from polluting the earth, people die. When you cannot be bothered to monitor workplaces for the hazardous practices under which their employees operate, people die. When you cannot be bothered to protect citizens from a law enforcement apparatus charged with protecting them, people die.
But we rarely hear about these aspects of keeping Americans safe until a crisis like Flint emerges. The ongoing notion of safety in politics, absent something headline-grabbing like poisoning an entire city, is relegated to the foreign-policy sphere. And playing up threats from abroad, often of dubious relevance, numbs the nation to the numerous other ways in which Americans are put in peril every day. And of course, there are fewer special interests clamoring to protect water supplies and workplaces than there are defense contractors wanting to go to war against a foreign threat.
To which I can only say: hear! hear!
But it also points to the necessity of functional government, and of the taxes needed to sustain that government.
As such, whatever good Bill Gates, et. al., may or may not be accomplishing, that NGOs are stepping in to provide services like vaccination or education only points to the failure of government, be it due to corruption, war, or lack of resources.
I’m not necessarily opposed to such philanthropy in a misguided heighten-the-contradictions! way—the need for clean water or mosquito netting is an immediate one, and without them, as David Dayen noted above, people die—but the private provisioning of public services certainly does take pressure off of incompetent government.
It’s also worth pointing out that foundations such as Gates’s are possible because people are able amass incredible fortunes and, in the US, pay relatively low taxes.
To the chase: is Bill Gates responsible for poisoned water in Flint? No.
And yes, insofar as he has profited from a system which tells people that acclaim in one’s field and small fortunes are not enough, but that freedom if only possible if millionaires are allowed to become billionaires and that massive corporations require the protections of government which are disdained when offered to the poor.
We in the United States live in an incredibly wealthy society, more than able to pay for competent government; that our government is, as in Flint or Ferguson, so often is not reflects the dysfunctions within the polity itself—and one of the chief sources of that dysfunction is our unwillingness/inability to say Enough! to those who have way, way more than enough.