I get so tired of reading the innane drivel criticizing Bill Gates’ excellent vision of global prosperity through more innovative approaches to global capitalism. Gates is right on, and this should be obvious to those who care about capitalism OR who care about bringing prosperity to the billions who suffer in developing countries.
Over at TechCrunch people are ranting irrationally about bootstrap prosperity in the selfish and foolish way US technophiles often do, oblivious to the causes and circumstances of poverty in the developing world and without any compassion for the *hundreds of millions* of children mired in poverty around the world.
Here’s how I vented over there:
Bravo to Gates. Many of the comments here floored me with their lack of insight.
First, to suggest Gates is not sincere is nonsensical. His record of philanthropy is clear, focused, and brilliant. Whatever you think of Microsoft’s history of sometimes ruthless corporate dominance you simply are not paying attention to think Gates vision of global prosperity is not genuine. I’d even go so far as to suggest Gates fortune was made largely through the purchases of other affluent people, and now he’s giving most of it to the poor. That is a virtuous cycle if I ever saw one.
Second, the notion that unfettered capitalism is the most expeditious way to feed the poor and improve the infrastructures of poor countries is naive and dangerous. Even Adam Smith noted that types of intervention are needed to preserve the integrity and power of free market forces. In nations that suffer from corrupt or short sighted leadership and cumbersome bureaucracies (that is to say, all nations), we need to bring modified capitalism to bear ASAP if we want to stabilize prosperity and lift the billion+ people who are simply out of the virtuous globalized capital loop. Gates point is that more innovative approaches to capitalism will benefit everybody, and he’s spot on.
Meanwhile Open Sourcer Matt Asay is conflating open source issues and Microsoft with global development, seeming to suggest that the fastest way to global prosperity is to bring Open Source to the world and kill Microsoft. Here’s what I wrote over there:
No. Emphatically. You are correct that Open Source is great, and also that Microsoft has strategically fought against open source. But Gates is correctly working to reallocate personal and corporate responsibilities. He’s saying that more of the big profits and big innovation should be focused on improving the lot of those in the developing world. This is a profound approach and a virtuous one.
I don’t think it is reasonable to ask Microsoft to be a key player in dismanting decades of their corporate dominance, even though I’m happy to see that fade. It’s also unreasonable to suggest the benefits of Open Source development will necessarily flow to the world’s poorest people. More likely they’ll flow to those of us in first world who are able to take advantage of them. I’m big on Open Source, but hardly think Microsoft should be a leader in that space. I’m even bigger on focusing attention on developing world problems and the kind of conflation of issues here simply confuses people.
Gates is speaking today at the Davos conference. It would be nice if people actually listen to what he is saying.
Nicely put, on both counts. Bottom line? it is $306 MILLION dollars that I don’t see any of Bill’s critics ponying up. What gets me is many of the folks posting rants about this are the same people will do nearly anything to get out of paying for music or software…At least, everyone I know does in one way or another give it a shot.
Think about that. $306,000,000. Giving away. And its far from the first or last time – anyone know what the total from the Gates foundation’s inception is, so far?
On Open Source, I deal a lot with this and I gotta tell ya…it is a Utopian vision that has great merit, but it is drowning in bad design, unsupported junk, slow moving, outdated platforms, and a million divergent paths that make software development a much more tricky proposition when you stray from the fold. So Far. I believe in the ideals of Open Source, but the methods so far leave a lot to be desired.
“Even Adam Smith noted that types of intervention are needed to preserve the integrity and power of free market forces. In nations that suffer from corrupt or short sighted leadership and cumbersome bureaucracies (that is to say, all nations), we need to bring modified capitalism to bear ASAP if we want to stabilize prosperity and lift the billion+ people who are simply out of the virtuous globalized capital loop. Gates point is that more innovative approaches to capitalism will benefit everybody, and he’s spot on.”
Gates’ philanthropy may be sincere, yet it seems rather odd to suggest that the strength of a nation’s economy should depend on the good will of the various billionaire sugar-daddies. That’s not to suggest some statist socialism as an alternative: hopefully there’s a middle ground between the current techno-oligarchies such as Microsoft, Intel and Apple and stalinist 5-year plans. Besides, Gates and Allen were rather fond of predatory capitalism (slightly modifying earlier GUI designs, etc., creating MS-DOS as a lightweight UNIX, etc), and Microsoft did in effect establish a monopoly over the OS business. Even the Keynesians and trust-busters of FDR’s admin. would likely nipped the Microsoft (or I-pod, Inc.) phenomena in the bud.
While some of the instinctive hatred for Gateszilla and MS (having a Windows icon morph into a swastika, etc.) seems a bit exaggerated and gratuitous, many consumers, at least ones quite some distance Silicon Valley and Seattle, identify “Bill Gates” as an image of nerd-tyranny, we humbly suggest. He’s become a metaphor, a cyber-JP Morgan for 21st century globalism.
Both of you are making excellent points in my view.
Metroknow you are right to take some pause to digest the amounts, which are simply staggering. Also significant is that Gates has only begun to give away his money – he’ll be giving most of his fortune – ill gotten or not – away to extreme poverty and US education projects. He also inspired the *second* richest guy, Buffett, to give away virtualy all of his 34 billion fortune to the programs of the Gates foundation which focus on innovative poverty solutions. Already you can easily attribute over a *million* lives saved from Gates Foundation health projects. In my book Gates would have to start mass murdering people with shrinkwrapped plastic box pieces to make a dent in the good getting done by these projects, most of which are in very early stages. I studied international development when getting my degrees and I would argue the “entrepreneurial” approaches to development are both a profoundly different and an effective approach to solving many global problems, especially relating to health, economics, and infrastructure. Perfect? no way – there will be many setbacks, but Gates’ has a great vision in my view.
Horatiox I’m obviously a big Gates fanboy (though not so much a Microsoft fan – I don’t use much of their stuff anymore).
However I agree and think you are exactly right that many see Gates as a cyber JP Morgan, and I think in many ways this is a correct view. Like the lumber, rail, and steel barons of the past Microsoft practiced very aggressive capitalism, broke some laws, worked towards monopoly, and more. I actually think some of Gates philanthropy has come from guilt over his economic indiscretions as the leader of free world tech-capitalism (heck, many still consider him the leader of ALL capitalism).
So, can you atone for past sins by giving to the poor a fortune you got largely from legitimate means from affluent people?
YES! of course you can and he has more than paid his moral dues already which is why I’m annoyed when people foolishly suggest he’s in this for some opportunistic reason. There is no evidence I have ever seen to suggest his poverty fighting is anything but sincere.
Your point about how you can’t build national strength through a few rich guys are *very* correct in my view, but Gates would totally agree with that. His model is to urge Governments (especially the corrupt crappy ones so prevalent in developing countries) to get involved in more innovative ways, avoid stifling regulations, and do better jobs of funding infrastructure. This is a cornerstone of the Gates Foundation approach which is to provide “seed capital” rather than fund high capital major projects of the type the USA used to do with USAID. Those often failed to be flexible or creative enough. Also those had the problem of huge graft as we have see in Iraq war funding and development funding, where big money projects and cash on pallets does not find its way to the project. A partial solution to that are small money projects like Grameen bank microloans, which don’t have enough big pots of money to be attractive to the many corrupt people in the food chain.
“””So, can you atone for past sins by giving to the poor a fortune you got largely from legitimate means from affluent people?
YES! of course you can and he has more than paid his moral dues already which is why I’m annoyed when people foolishly suggest he’s in this for some opportunistic reason. There is no evidence I have ever seen to suggest his poverty fighting is anything but sincere.”””
This sort of justification is understandable, but I do not completely agree with it (though we should be careful not to conflate economics– or finance capitalism–with “ethics”, whatever ethics consists of). Consider like an Al Capone (or Larry Flynt if you will) turned philanthropist (Gates is not Capone or Flynt, but will do for illustration). Al has become a billionaire through casinos, drug-dealing, prostitution, etc.: does his becoming charitable at 60 after a life of crime excuse him? Not really. The analogy’s a bit of a stretch, but the modern market (including consumer electronics/computing) does have casino like aspects. That Gates now is a sincere philanthropist does not excuse his career as capitalist predator: really, it would seem if that one agrees that Gates’ rise to power was injust, corrupt, predatory, etc (ripping off UNIX, xerox, Mac, etc.), one would view the philanthropy as suspect as well. Why not just print out currency and pass it around to po’ folks?
Another aspect of the IT Tycoon business that might irritate some concerns meritocracy (and in a sense offers a challenge to laissez-faire econ. of all types): say Bill Gates was required to take some standardized tests, even technical programming tests. And Joe Duck has sat for some as well. Duck (and many others) outscore Gates (or Larry Flynt for that matter) on all sections, and has proven himself capable at coding C++, or java, or VB or what have you. Many people (naive of course) might say Duck was thus as capable a worker and as valuable to the company as Gates is. Or instantiate “Manny Gonzalez” in for Duck: Manny has an engineering degree, and knows his TCP-IP settings, his C++ and integrals like the back of his hand–does Guillermo Gates? We sorta doubt it. So why isn’t Manny a tycoon? Because the market (and IT hiring practices) has little to do with meritocracy, or indeed, with the principles of the Founding fathers.
Back in the fifties the Government, Phone company, Dept. of the Army, etc. are like “Let’s build some puters!” Since omnipotent Governments and corporations aren’t really interested in profits or control and are generally very honest, they just kind of forgot about the awesome technology that they invented. A few years later, little Billy Gates comes along and is all like “look I made your puters better cause I’m so smart… you don’t mind if I sell my new improved puter programs and become the richest dude in the whole wide world do you?” The powers that be who own 98% of this planet stand back and say “You go Billy!”. “We are honest folks who believe in the American dream!” “God bless American capitalism and free enterprise!” … and everyone lived happily ever after. The End.
Thank gawd for little Billy Gates coming along and liberating the PC for the working man. If it weren’t for him, it could have slipped into the hands of some shady evil group of “people” who just wanted to monopolize it and use it to stalk and monitor everyone.
God bless America and little Billy Gates.