Posted by Jerry on June 22, 2007
John Stossel, a well-known ABC news magazine anchor and an Ayn Rand-inspired liberterian, criticizes Bill Gates’ startlingly naive perspective on the social problems of the world. In his article titled “Bill Gates Needs an Econ Course,” Stossel writes:
Gates spoke at Harvard recently, urging graduating students to take on the “world’s deepest inequities [including] world hunger … the scarcity of clean water … children who die from diseases we can cure”. All of us want those problems solved, and through their charitable foundation, Gates and his wife, Melinda, have certainly put their money where their mouths are. But Gates seems unaware that these problems can’t be eliminated in the simplistic way he advocates.
He told the grads, “The market did not reward saving the lives of these children [in poor countries], and governments did not subsidize it. So the children died because their mothers and their fathers had no power in the market and no voice in the system.”
What is Gates talking about?
Can he name one poor country that permits the free market to operate? The problem is not that the market doesn’t make it profitable to save lives — it most certainly does. The problem is that Third World countries have overbearing, corrupt governments that are obstacles to private property and freedom. That’s why the children’s parents have no voice or power.
In Atlas Shrugged, the brilliant scientist Robert Stadler is regarded as among the most depraved and immoral men in the novel, particularly despised by John Galt. Readers who are only marginally familiar with Objectivism or those prone to repeated (and perhaps wilful) misinterpretation of Rand’s philosophy might find this point contradictory in that Rand chose to cast a brilliant scientist as a specimen of moral depravity given her penchant for glorifying the men of genius and ability. Indeed, Rand also depicts several other barons of big industry and rich businessmen as unscrupulous mooches and cronies of the government.
These characters in the novel represent those who either have wilfully betrayed their values or have never bothered to discover its roots, opting instead to be subservient and intellectualy docile instruments of the State and status quo.
To me, Bill Gates comes disturbingly close to these characters in the manner in which he publicly–and on an authoritative platform accorded by Harvard–betrays the very values of free market capitalism that made his unparalleled accumulation of wealth possible. To say the least, his words were highly irresponsible. In advocating ideas, one has to be incredibly careful of the positions one holds and professes, which is why one must repeatedly “check your premises.”
Bill Gates’ attitude can be described as that of a dog who bites the hand of his master who feeds it. It is unfortunate.