The Capitalist With Little Faith In Capitalism
You know him as the founder of the Microsoft Corporation and as the wealthiest person on earth, with a personal fortune of $89.2 billion. But Bill Gates is much more than that. He's also a political activist who uses his wealth to promote a host of left-wing causes. He does much of this through his charitable foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which he and his wife established 17 years ago.
Over the years, Gates has been outspoken on a number of social and political issues. In 2010, for instance, he lamented the U.S. Government's “ridiculously low levels” of spending on so-called green-energy research, a complaint he has articulated on many occasions.
Gates embraces the theory that the greenhouse gas emissions associated with human industrial activity are major contributors to potentially catastrophic “climate change.” In a June 2015 interview with the Financial Times, he repeatedly emphasized that the public sector, and not the private sector, was uniquely capable of leading a global shift to a clean-energy economy reliant on wind and solar power sources rather than on fossil fuels. “[I]t should be like the Manhattan Project and the Apollo Project in the sense that the government should put in a serious amount of R&D,” said Gates. In a blog post a few days later, Gates expanded on that theme: “Why should governments fund basic research? For the same reason that companies tend not to: because it is a public good. The benefits to society are far greater than the amount that the inventor can capture. One of the best examples of this is the creation of the Internet. It has led to innovations that continue to change our lives, but none of the companies who deliver those innovations would ever have built it.”
In a November 2015 Atlantic magazine interview about green-energy development projects, Gates said that while “the government will be somewhat inept” at spearheading such initiatives, “the private sector is in general inept.” “How many companies do venture capitalists invest in that go poorly?” he continued. “By far most of them.” Gates's lack of faith in the private sector's ability to effectively address the climate-change problem rests in his belief that “there’s no fortune to be made” in such a venture, and that “even if you have a new energy source that costs the same as today’s and emits no CO2, it will be uncertain compared with what’s tried-and-true and already operating at unbelievable scale and has gotten through all the regulatory problems.” “Without a substantial carbon tax” imposed by government, Gates concludes, “there’s no incentive for innovators or plant buyers to switch.”
Gates has expressed a lack of confidence in capitalism on a number of other occasions as well, such as when he said that “the market does not drive the scientists, the communicators, the thinkers, the government to do the right things.” In a similar vein, in March 2013 Gates told the Royal Academy of Engineering's Global Grand Challenges Summit that capitalism frequently pursues “priorities [that] are tilted by marketplace imperatives” and thus fail to address the most vital human needs. “The malaria vaccine in humanist terms is the biggest need,” he explained. “But it gets virtually no funding. But if you are working on male baldness or other things you get an order of magnitude more research funding because of the voice in the marketplace than something like malaria.” By Gates's calculus, governments and philanthropic organizations must intervene to offset this “flaw in the pure capitalistic approach.”
In June 2015, Gates announced that he planned to personally invest $2 billion in renewable technology initiatives over the ensuing five years. Toward that end, in November 2015 he joined the so-called Breakthrough Energy Coalition, which consisted of 28 wealthy investors from 10 countries who pledged to invest a combined $1 billion, to help “bend the curve” on climate change. “People like myself,” Gates said, “who can afford to take big risks with start-up companies, should — because of climate change — be willing to put some number of billions into the spin-offs that will come out of … government-funded activity.”
Immigration policy is another issue of great concern to Gates. In early 2014, he charged that “the injustice” of America's existing immigration system was “incredible.” In a July 2014 op-ed which he co-authored with Sheldon Adelson and Warren Buffett, Gates claimed that U.S. immigration policy “fails badly” on two major counts: being “humane to immigrants living here,” and “contribut[ing] to the well-being of our citizens.” Advocating amnesty for those who have broken U.S. immigration laws, the op-ed said: “Americans are a forgiving and generous people, and who among us is not happy that their forebears — whatever their motivation or means of entry — made it to our soil?” A good model to emulate, said Gates, would be the “enlightened immigration policies” of Canada.
In February 2014, Gates joined former Washington Post CEO Don Graham in financing a $25 million college scholarship fund for illegal-alien students living in the U.S. as temporary residents under the terms of former President Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an executive action which guaranteed that most DREAM Act-eligible young people would temporarily be granted legal status, work permits, access to certain publicly funded social services, and protection from deportation.
Gates also favors an increase in the admission of foreign refugees to the U.S., including those hailing from war-torn, terrorist hotbeds in the Middle East. In early 2016, for instance, he said that America has “the capacity” to do the same as Germany and Sweden, two countries that he said should “be congratulated” for accepting massive numbers of migrants from such places. Similarly, in September 2016 Gates praised Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who had played a key role in importing many Middle Eastern refugees to his country, as “a leader [who] wants to remind people about openness and taking in refugees in an appropriate way.”
In summation, though Bill Gates is the ultimate capitalist, he has little faith in the ability of the free-market system to drive the engine of human progress in a positive direction. Moreover, he views the United States not only as a nation that needlessly mistreats massive numbers of people (such as immigrants and refugees), but also as a nation that has caused considerable harm to the natural environment. In other words, Bill Gates is a man of the left.