Bill and Melinda Gates hold heavy sway over public policy, yet no one elected them to any office. It is crucial that they, and other large donors, be held accountable as philanthropists. This is the worthy goal of an impassioned new book by Linsey McGoey ... In the first half of the book, she reviews the history of large foundations, persuasively demonstrating that corporate titans, like Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, and Henry Ford, approached philanthropy in ways that were fundamentally 'selfish' ... In the second half of the book, McGoey narrows her lens to the Gates Foundation’s work on U.S. K-12 education and global health. If she makes one overriding critique, it is that the foundation ignores the preferences of local communities as it pursues its agenda ... A skeptic of genetically modified foods, McGoey does not make clear that the scientific consensus suggests they are safe for consumption. She emphasizes that the foundation once held shares in Monsanto, and acknowledges that it has since divested from the company ... No Such Thing as a Free Gift is filled with evidence, all of which has been reported elsewhere, of financially self-serving charity on the part of Canadian executive Frank Giustra and other associates of Bill Clinton, as well as companies like Nestlé, General Electric, and Walmart. But none of those names are mentioned in the subtitle of McGoey’s book, only the Gates name is. And what McGoey does not prove is that Bill or Melinda Gates seek financial gain from their charitable activities. Instead, she insinuates ... McGoey seems not to have interviewed Bill or Melinda Gates (they are very difficult to access), and seems to have had only limited cooperation from the foundation in responding to her questions and critiques. Nor does she provide original analysis of the foundation’s financial documents ... A full investigation of the Gates Foundation would need to weigh the organization’s goals against its considerable achievements, which receive little ink in No Such Thing as a Free Gift.
McGoey’s new book is a timely criticism of a society that allows an individual to accumulate such a distorting amount of financial power; it is an indictment of unaccountable power in general and of the Gates Foundation in particular.