Business Maverick


A conspiracy theory — the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the World Bank

A conspiracy theory — the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the World Bank
Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates overlay. (Photo: Daniel Berman / Redux /Composition by Jens Schmid)

Do I believe in this conspiracy theory, that the World Bank and the Gates Foundation seek to control the world through a single payment infrastructure entirely within its purview, if not under its control, and every person’s buying behaviour can be scrutinised down to the level of individual purchases and, moreover, where the payment instrument can be programmed to act differently for each citizen?

There is a narrative that unfolds like this:

Since the birth of liberalism, which means The Enlightenment or the French Revolution or the US Constitution (or even earlier, depending on the historian), the separation between the rights of the individual and the rights of the community has been the fault line for all political and even cultural contestation. What are the inalienable rights of the citizen and what are the rights of society? And do these rights collide or coincide? 

Which brings us screaming into the present.

A few days ago, a long-planned Federal Reserve project was officially launched in the US. It is called FedNow. The tl;dr version of this project is that it enables Fed member banks to settle payments instantly. So a business in Los Angeles which wants to pay a business in New York at a different bank will find the transaction settling in seconds, rather than days.

This is obviously good for both business and individuals and reduces costs all round. No blockchains are involved in this – this was built using traditional centralised technology.

But, if we take a broader view, there is a much larger story unfolding. FedNow is just one of many “payment speed-up” initiatives happening at the urging, and with the assistance, of the World Bank under a blanket initiative called Project FASTT. There are more than 70 countries building “fast payment systems” under this umbrella and FedNow just happens to be one of the largest and most visible.

Much of the funding for these efforts is coming from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

So far, none of this is of concern to either the individual or the state. It is in fact a boon. The time between payment and settlement has always been thorny – financial institutions have always extracted rent from that time slice while the payer and payee sit and twiddle their thumbs nervously and fruitlessly until the transaction is settled. All that wasted time will now disappear under various Project FASTT initiatives worldwide.

Where’s the conspiracy?

So where, you might ask, is the conspiracy theory?

It has to do with the much-contested crypto-based CBDC (Central Bank Digital Currency) initiatives under way in more than 100 countries. A refresher – these are efforts under the aegis of central banks that use the blockchain to carry cryptotokens that move payment from place to place, instantaneously, frictionlessly and much more securely than cash or credit cards or EFTs or any other existing payment technology or process. A central-bank CBDC could result in all payment methods being consolidated under a single government-mandated cryptocurrency.

Many people are nervous about this. By their very nature, blockchain-borne CBDCs are programmable and searchable by central authorities (as opposed to the cash in your wallet, for instance).

In China, the state will not only be able to micro-monitor the payment habits of every citizen via their CBDC (called the e-CNY), but will also be able to block transactions of individual citizens at whim. If the government decides a citizen has been bad, for instance by posting the wrong political comment on Facebook, their ability to buy goods can be instantly curtailed. (This kind of individual financial punishment is already being meted out, with reports of some sanctioned citizens unable to use public transport tokens as a punishment for some infractions).

Their citizens don’t seem to be too worried though – there have already been 260 million e-CNY wallets downloaded.

Other countries which have more interest in individual rights have promised not to spy on their citizens when they finally deploy their CBDCs. Well, that’s all very nice, but one does wonder. The state of Florida is so convinced that some future US CBDC will be misused by their very own federal government that they have just passed a law banning them.

There has been much written about the dangers of overreaching government citizen surveillance using CBDCs, so what’s new here and how does it relate to Project FASTT? The answer is buried in a smoking gun paragraph deep within the Project FASTT documentation. 

Here it is:

“As Central Banks continue to explore the development of central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) the interplay between CBDCs and fast payments is likely to receive further attention. A CBDC network and fast payment do not necessarily have to compete. One potential option in the space would be using (FASTT) payment rails to carry CBDCs.”

Meaning that the World Bank is envisioning a world in which there is a single payment infrastructure entirely within its purview, if not under its control. A world in which there is no cash, and every person’s buying behaviour can be scrutinised down to the level of individual purchases and, moreover, where the payment instrument can be programmed to act differently for each citizen. That looks to me like a precision tool for citizen control more befitting of some dystopian fiction.

It also gets worse, because there is no reason to stop at payment. All assets, both digital and physical, can be tokenised, and if they are running on rails designed by the World Bank and packaged by tokens controlled by centralised nation states, well…

Do I believe in this conspiracy theory, that the World Bank and the Gates Foundation seek to control the world? No, I don’t. I am allergic to theories that assume the complex co-ordination of a huge number of people – people necessarily both venal and tight-lipped. And I think The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is a net positive for the planet. Having said that, the whole concept of CBDCs on World Bank infrastructure does make me a little queasy.

So, to return to our original narrative – to what extent is it your right to buy or sell something privately and anonymously? And to what extent does the state have the right to eavesdrop?

I know where I stand.  

(For a full, if somewhat fringy exposé of the supposed conspiracy, watch this from CoinBureau, below.)


Steven Boykey Sidley is a Professor of Practice at JBS, University of Johannesburg. His new book It’s Mine: How the Crypto Economy is Redefining Ownership will be published in August 2023. 


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Easy Does It says:

    Any concept with instant gratification is a winner. It has to start out as a win win for business and the consumer. The sell would be that information is available anyway whether you have rewards cards for supermarkets, fuel, bank …..,, connect to social media, read news, swipe a card to pay or play games on a phone. However, with the proposed development it takes data collection to a different level and creates a new market, a new business and a new way to buy information. It is not a case of IF but WHEN is it going to happen.

  • Ian Dewar says:

    Under the heading “Principles for electronically collating personal information”, Section 51 of SA’s Electronic Communications & Transactions Act should prevent any abuse of collated personal information by a ‘data controller’.

    In particular by Section 51(9) where it states: “A party controlling personal information may use that data to compile profiles for statistical purposes and may freely trade with such profiles and statistical data, as long as the profiles and statistical data cannot be linked to any specific data subject by a third party”.

    It seems to me, therefore, that SA citizens are well protected from data abuse as long as the said ‘data controllers’ are properly accredited as Chartered Statistical Analysts.

    For example re implementation, the role of so-accredited ‘data controllers’ will I believe be a lawful necessity for all local governments in the near future.

    • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

      If the information is available it is going to get used. Laws will not protect people – prevention of such technologies being implemented is the only sure fire way to prevent abuse.

  • cobus venter says:

    While the issue might potentially be abused assumes that all/every state finally agrees….. that’s not going to happen. What is more likely happening here is that the benefits of blockchain based CBDCs and fast payment systems can be explored while still maintaining the hegemony of the state (or rather their respective tax authorities). The very concept of a fully decentralised payment system sounds nice, but there are many benefits that stem from a “Central Bank” led payment system to society. Many more than a comment will allow anyway… The final payment system will be much more efficient and cheaper while giving the state more insights into previously unrecorded transactions. Ideally this should lead to more seamless / automatic taxation which in theory will require lower tax rates. But that’s a long shot dream as governments tend to creep into everything and take their slice…

  • Johan Buys says:

    Bad news : just because you’re paranoid, does not mean they’re not out to get you.

  • A Z says:

    Dear Steven, monopolists and autocrats are kissing cousins. The corporate variety seek out the governmental/state variety as their bedfellows and varying degrees of agency, government and complete state capture are their offspring. Those whose funding you credit as a net boon derived those funds first with a good product but then from gaining and retaining market share and thereby influence through anti-competitive practices (see anti-trust case settled by the same). They did so against the principles of a free market which promote the competition of ideas and products to drive progress and deliver the best value for the public to freely choose for themselves. That same thinking is evident in the funding decisions of the foundation which arose from the capital and influence accumulated by these anti-competitive practices. Only now that anti-competitive behaviour is being applied to the autonomy of our health and financial decisions via said foundation’s grants. Through the pandemic, it invested a combined hundreds of millions of Rands in funding our health products regulator, research by outspoken local health academics/professors, health journalism and international media organisations who all endorsed one approach to the pandemic. And they did so to the vehement exclusion of the other viable alternatives which they painted as heresy. This anti-competitive practice had appalling outcomes. It’s imperative is commercial, autocratic and a net ill. CBDCs will prove the same.

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