Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Bill Gates Wants To Pull Up The Ladder, Or At Least Break The Lower Rungs

From the February 13, 2008 edition of The New Republic:

In the corner of one of the Microsoft cafeterias, you can find a chunk of the dismantled Berlin Wall. And, for a time, this seemed like an appropriate home for this relic of the twentieth century.

I love it. What's the point of winning the game if you can't take home the trophy? Papa Bush didn't give us any parades or fireworks when the Berlin Wall fell, so this will have to do.
During the 1990s, it truly felt as if communism had given way to the software behemoth, or at least the brand of capitalism that Microsoft had come to represent.

No, communism gave way to Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and Pope John Paul Jr. Corporations like Microsoft were a factor, in that they allowed Commie Captives to see what life was like on the other side. And let's be honest: Dumb ideas eventually die.

The casual placement of such a potent symbol of oppression, standing in the shadow of the gamers and marketers in the sushi line, struck the triumphalist note of the zeitgeist.

Speaking of gamers, I have one request for Martin Peretz, Editor-In-Chief of The New Republic, and possible author of this unsigned editorial that I'm fisking: Please, please, please hire a "gamer" to get your website running. This is the second time I've tried to link to a New Republic piece. The site is down more than it's up, which means I have to re-type your stuff word for word.

But that optimism has long since faded.

Faded? Faded? Last time I checked, East Germany was doing ok. And Poland. And China. Berkeley's prospering. Time Magazine's poster boy Putin is doing well in Russia, but it has turned into a mafia state, run by the same gangsters who ran the place when it was The New Republic's poster boy.
And Bill Gates has traveled one of the more interesting ideological journeys of our times.

As someone named "Brian" commented on Samizdata, this ideological journey is the standard "Pull Up The Ladder I'm All Right" routine.... Capitalism creates rich people. People who are rich don't want there to be any more rich people as this creates crowds in the places only rich people can afford. I don't know that I'd go that far, Brian, but there is a tendency for some people to raise the drawbridge once they've accumulated their personal pile of plunder....
Over the past decades, he (Gates) has gone from poster child of capitalism to critic of it.

Brian, I take it all back. He's trying to pull up the ladder.
Last week, he spoke about the limits of the marketplace at the Davos Economic Forum, where the elite gathers annually for deep chin-tugging and self-congratulating: "We have to find a way to make the aspects of capitalism that serve wealthier people serve poorer people as well."

Maybe we could set up a system honoring Free Trade, Individual Rights, and Contract Enforcement, with no monopolies, and have minimal Government Interference? Would that help "poorer people"? It would?
There's a name for it already: Laissez-Faire Capitalism.
Kinda like they have in the rich countries.

Through his philanthropic ventures in Africa, he claims to have observed the limits of the market, where advances in health and education never wend their way to the downtrodden.

Is that because of a market failure, or is it because Africa has governments that make our House of Representatives look like The School of Athens?
According to The Wall Street Journal, he (Gates) has begun reading deep into Adam Smith's oeuvre: and not just The Wealth of Nations, but also The Theory of Moral Sentiments.

This is great news. Because when Gates delves into Adam Smith (founder of economics), he's going to come across quotations like this: "Little else is requisite to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence from the lowest barbarism but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice: all the rest being brought about by the natural course of things." This is Adam Smith's way of begging us, begging us from beyond the grave, to please leave everything alone....
It's not surprising that his criticism of the market - and his call for morality to take its place alongside profit in our calculus - has earned him the derision of certain conservatives.

Let's see what Adam Smith had to say about the morality of the market: "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our necessities but of their advantages." That's in every Economics texbook I've ever seen, including the ones translated from Chinese.
Writing on the National Review website, Larry Kudlow sniveled, "So I just have to smile when billionaires like Bill Gates and George Soros turn cold shoulders to the blessings capitalism bestows....Look fellas, the command-and-control, state-run economics experiment was tried. It was called the Soviet Union. If you hadn't noticed, it was a miserable failure."

Larry Kudlow doesn't need any support from me....but how does The New Republic know that Kudlow sniveled? Don't you have to be present to detect sniveling? Wait, I was mistaken. I just looked it up.
Sniveling means to complain or whine tearfully.
But Kudlow sounds pretty pleased with himself, getting paid good money to point out the obvious. A more accurate term might be "Larry Kudlow rejoiced," or "Larry Kudlow smirked". And the reason for all this rejoicing and smirking from Mr. Kudlow? It's not that The Soviet Union fell, or that Socialism was thoroughly discredited. Kudlow is smirking because he writes for a magazine whose damn website works. Go ahead, hit the National Review link up there. Their website works ! So does the website for The American Spectator ! Ditto for Reason magazine ! And Liberty magazine ! Evil Free Market Capitalist Pig magazines have websites that work ! ! ! !
Then try to log on to The New Freakin' Holy Republic. And then try again and again and again. It'll make you snivel every time. Does anyone else see a strong correlation here???
Ok, back to the original article:
Of course, Kudlow's criticisms are risible. Gates doesn't want socialism and isn't calling for the nationalization of industry. He wants businesses to devote more of their resources to spreading their products and technologies to 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 said.

Smith agrees with Gates: "How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it, except the pleasure of seeing it."
In fact, it's precisely at this point in Gates's logic that we begin to have problems.

Yeah, right about the time Gates started making sense.
He deserves an ovation for his philanthropy. But there are some problems that are beyond even the reach of a $38 billion foundation. And, while we admire the courage of his criticism of the marketplace, his remedy (calling on business to lend a hand to the poor) hardly seems up to the task. There are grave problems in the world that only government can alleviate, because only government has the scale and reach to help remedy them.

And, in the words of my mother, if you make a mess, you're the one who needs to clean it up.
And, while business can act on behalf of the common good, it will almost always act in its own self-interest - a tendency that often places it on a collision course with morality.

See the quote above about the butcher, brewer, and baker. Leave the butcher, brewer, and baker alone, and they'll take care of the hungry people. The hungry people have something that the butcher, brewer, and baker want in exchange for their butchered, brewed, and baked products, whether it's labor, money, or good will. When China discovered this, 1 million people per month started leaving poverty. But there's usually something in the way.....
In other words, the state can never provide a sufficient solution, but smart, effective government is a necessity.

Yep. A government that enforces contracts, provides a safe environment, prevents monopolies, and that's about it.
That's not to diminish his accomplishment. Gates has done a noble thing, breaking with the hardened consensus of the business elite. We simply await the completion of his journey.

A journey that I hope will end somewhere near Washington D.C., not near the center of harmful government intervention, but near the home offices of The New Republic, where they badly need some website help.

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