The Gates Speech — Rebuilding Capitalism

Bill Gates — in the twilight of his technical career at Microsoft, on the eve of his new one in philanthropy at the helm of his Gates Foundation — is set to speak at the World Economic Forum in Davos, CH today to call for a “kinder, creative” capitalism (according to the subject line of the Wall Street Journal’s email alert this morning). This should be a classic Davos speech, the kind of thing captains of industry and heads of state and rock and roll front men want to discuss, and it should kick off a furious bout of analysis, guffaws, and more important, heavy thinking about the role of corporate social responsibility.

“”We have to find a way to make the aspects of capitalism that serve wealthier people serve poorer people as well,” Mr. Gates will tell world leaders at the forum, according to a copy of the speech seen by The Wall Street Journal.”

“Among the fixes he plans to call for: Companies should create businesses that focus on building products and services for the poor. “Such a system would have a twin mission: making profits and also improving lives for those who don’t fully benefit from market forces,” he plans to say.”

I strongly recommend a read of the Journal story, it’s a deep look at how the richest man in the world intends to leave his mark on the world, and that mark won’t look like this if he has his way.

Corporate Social Responsibility is due to be changed in some tangible ways. Lenovo is lucky to have Bill Stevenson guiding its efforts, and I’ll be interested in his thoughts on today’s speech by Gates. You can read Bill’s blog at

Jeff Jarvis is liveblogging from Davos and hits on the Gore/Bono-Google sessions.

Author: David Churbuck

Cape Codder with an itch to write

0 thoughts on “The Gates Speech — Rebuilding Capitalism”

  1. I read the speech and the article. Agree with Bill that it doesn’t seem like innovation, i.e. “creative capitalism” is the main need here, with examples abounding around the globe.

    I do think that a proper start, though, would be to go back to fifth grade and take a more complete view of capitalism as a system, revisiting its basic definitions.

    I’m calling our view incomplete if we don’t consider how capitalism, like any system, articulates and makes plans for its externalities and forseeable failures. But, we have not heard much discussion around, “Yep, capitalism is what we want, but as with any system, let’s talk about how we’ll handle its failures.” Glad Bill Gates is using his weight to put that thought out there.

    He does recognize that the traditional mechanisms, laws and social programming, are not working to mitigate or address failure.

    But capitalism can do very well with those failures unaddressed.

    Civil society probably can’t. …China seems to recognize the risk of a few million disgruntled people united by conspicuous disparity.

    But I don’t think we cut straight to a moral appeal at the point of realizing the limits of laws and programs.

    I think policy led by overt consideration of the natural and inherent failings and how we fix them (using laws, social programs, other) would be a solid start that might lead to real innovations that could take on pretty big scale. This isn’t the same as starting with the moral approach. Morality has the leading place for me, but it’s impact will be limited if we can’t make “the right thing” a natural outcome as well as a leading call to action.

    Addressing failure as a natural thing and addressing it sytematically would make us set real goals, e.g. not the eradication of poverty, but rather the eradication of the patterns of the same folks and geographies being destitute, relegating poverty to a natural imperfection, but one that isn’t so sytemically wide and one that can be fixed when it occurs and reoccurs. Innovation in this context would be powerful.

    We’ve done it with cars already…

    People buy cars knowing that they will break down and nobody freaks out. No rallies or concerts to eradicate car brokenness. We don’t assign merit to cars on a zero sum basis when considering this breaking down: “My car works. Cars are good.” “My car’s broken. Cars are bad.”

    Cars are cars. They break. We fix em. We keep it movin.

    Seems like capitalism could at least get that treatment.

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