Dear Mister Bill Gates

By Maarten Dierckx. Maarten, 35, is a stage technician who lives in Antwerp, Belgium. This is his second submission for the 2017 NUHA Blogging Prizes.

Dear Mister Bill Gates,

I write this letter to you in accordance with an essay I am attempting to write. I wish to stress the importance of this essay as the main price is, I believe, $2500. No token prize, I think you will agree.

The subject matter of the essay is the following: does power corrupt? (It’s not actually phrased like that. The essay is meant to be written as a response to the statement “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” – Abraham Lincoln. Do you agree?” Considering it was not Abe who coined the phrase, but his biographer, I think you will agree the subject matter can be summarised, as I have, for brevity’s sake – as well as historical accuracy.)

How could we test the truth of this statement? After all, perhaps it’s nigh more than an old wives tale and the rich and powerful are no less benevolent than the average cleaning lady, cobbler or cook. I’ve struggled with this question for months now. Where could I turn to find decisive proof that I then could present to the readers of my essay in the most succinct way imaginable, causing a veritable cascade of aha erlebnisse across the globe?

Where could I turn indeed? I live in a crummy apartment. I pay too much rent and the landlady refuses to fix my leaking tap and bathroom and toilet. The window in my bathroom is broken. There’s cat hair everywhere. When I turn away, I do believe the mould is mocking me behind my back. I pay too much but can’t afford any place else.

I can’t afford it because I earn about a $1000 a month, even though I have a master’s degree.

I can’t blame anyone else for my predicament. I’m a grown up and I got myself into this mess. I grew up with an alcoholic father, a hypochondriac mother and two brothers each with their own crippling handicaps: the elder brother is now a successful psychiatrist and my younger brother an accomplished carpenter. Which goes to show just how much of a failure I have become.

I’ve worked hard. As a technician, a development helper for the third world, a librarian, a translator and, ever so briefly, as the worst teacher that has ever been. I wasn’t ever any good at any of it, but I tried my best and that would have to do. Right? Except I’ve never earned more than $1300 a month in my life.

Perhaps it’s the drugs, the drinking, the truckloads of coffee that hampers me in finding a place in this world. I honestly don’t know. If we’re being honest, none of these things really stuck either. I can’t even manage to be a proper alcoholic.

Where would a guy like me turn to find power? I’m useless. So, in my desperation, I turned to my newest endorphin-inducing trinket: Google!

My first idea was to look at the supposedly most powerful man on earth at the moment; President Donald Trump. I quickly changed my mind. After some deliberation, I decided on you, Mister Gates. Google tells me, Mister Gates, that your net worth is $88.7 billion. I’ve tried to imagine what that means. How much is $88.7 billion anyway? Come to think of it, I wouldn’t know what you’d do with that kind of money. I think I’d give it all way, honestly, to stop people pointing fingers. I’ve come up with a way to wrap my mind around it, however, you will be pleased to read.

Volume! A billion dollars in actual dollar bills, stacked in neat, crisp notes, takes up 1250 cubic meters. (Come to think of it, would it not be great if your face was on the one dollar bill? It’d be the Bill!) So, 1250 times 88.7 equals 108750 cubic meters. That still doesn’t really help, does it? Well, a little Google whizzing later and I’ve found that an average house takes up about 500 cubic meters. (It’s a very difficult parameter because the size of housing differs so immensely across the globe.) Anyway: 108750 divided by units of 500 leaves you with a total of 217 large houses and a big garage. Full of money, stacked to the brim!

They buried pharaohs with their gold and slaves: you could easily outdo those dried up old prunes by burying a small town with your money.

Now, don’t take this the wrong way. I’m not one of those whinging communists that will whine incessantly on about how it’s unjustifiable you own more than all the cleaning ladies together on the planet earn in a year. Scratch that: lifetime. Let me rephrase that, I’m not going to say you have more than all the policemen and all the firefighters combined earn in a year and that is somehow improper.

A man makes the bed he sleeps in! I firmly believe that. Your success is your own and the billions you’ve spent in benevolent works have not gone unnoticed, sir! No, they have not. I write to you, Mister Gates, because your success and power make you the person to ask the question I wish to coin in my essay. I could ask you directly if you think power has a corrupting influence, but that would be so unmethodical. Your opinion can hardly be considered unbiased, now can it?

What I propose, Mister Gates, is that we unravel this conundrum for once and for all. To that end, in the name of science, I request one million dollars from you. A puny amount by your standards, but that amount would increase my net worth by a staggering amount; I couldn’t even begin to calculate by what percentage. I really couldn’t. As such, I offer myself up as the ultimate test subject. I shall brave these dark tides strengthened by your example, Mister Gates.

After a year has passed, we can assess how corrupting the influence was of this large intake of money – if I manage to survive. Who knows, I might even win first prize for the essay!

Thank you kindly,

Maarten Dierckx

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