Occasionally I get the opportunity to tell friends about a pet theory I have: eugenics, in some softer and less overtly racist form, is going to come back, and that as a culture we have been left without the intellectual resources to prevent it. And philanthropy will lead the charge in favor of it.

Most people think I’m crazy when I say this. Or if they share some of my concerns, they think (and not without some reason) that eugenics-like activity is more likely to come from the Trumpist right wing of the country than the sophisters, economists, and calculators of the centrist elite that worry me much more.

So why is it that group that keeps me up at night? Take a look at the words of Melinda Gates, buried most of the way through this profile of scientist Hans Rosling, which a friend pointed me to this week.

"Melinda Gates says that after a drink or two, people often tell her that they think the Gates Foundation may be contributing to overpopulation and environmental collapse by saving children’s lives with interventions such as vaccines. She is thrilled when Rosling smoothly uses data to show how the reverse is true: as rates of child survival have increased over time, family size has shrunk."

Let that sink in, folks. Read it again.

Melinda Gates—whose enormous foundation has influence in global policy-making that far exceeds that of many national governments—socializes regularly with people who, just under their humanitarian surface, think it would be better for humanity to let children die than to vaccinate them.

Not just one person, either. The idea that it is bad to vaccinate children is an idea that “people often tell her.”

And not only does she keep such company, her response when confronted with such opinions is to say, in effect, "Don't worry, my friend, we're definitely still going to reduce the population of children. Our math says so." This raises the question, of course, of whether Melinda would still be in favor of vaccinating children if it didn’t shrink family size according to the Gates Foundation’s models. Shockingly, I’m not sure we know the answer to that question.

This old Mitchell and Webb comedy skit, in which a group of economists and government officials consider “killing all the poor” as a mathematical solution to a recession, is literally coming true. Our globalized elite, spurred on by “strategic philanthropists” and “effective altruists,” won’t kill the poor exactly. They’ll simply decide—due to the findings of objective mathematical models, of course—that it is better to let them die, and to do everything possible to prevent the healthy from reproducing.

The Mitchell and Webb sketch was a much funnier bit before I knew that it reflected real conversations at the highest level of philanthropy. We are on the brink of a return to eugenics, with nothing except a vague sense of embarrassment, easily overcome by a little alcohol in the company of friends, to stop it.

For more articles on the connection between philanthropy and eugenics, read about the Philanthropic Revolution of the early 1900s, and a recent piece on how with heavy support from foundations like Carnegie and Rockefeller, international relations was born as the study of how the white race should “manage” the growth of non-white populations.

Photo credit: DFID - UK Department for International Development via VisualHunt / CC BY-SA