This post is now at Technology Report:
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.