Bill Gates' new idea "creative capitalism"

After having listened to Bill Gates’ 30 minutes speech at this years World Economic Forum a couple of points struck me.

First, I was surprised by the lack of substance. I would have thought Bill Gates would have presented some truly new ideas or angles on how to view capitalism as a source of promoting social welfare. But disappointingly, his concept of creative capitalism seems to me to be just the same old song that self-interested companies should incorporate into their business models the benefits from being nice and responsible to society.

Yeah, right. But that is not so simple is it. The idea of the corporate citizenship or corporate social responsibility has been tried for many years now (hundreds of years or two or three decades, if we are talking about the modern version). And as the recent survey in the Economist clearly spells out, CSR is a concept locked in internal conflict:

If the business of business stops being business, we all lose.

But of course, it is laudable indeed that rich people such as Microsoft’s founder spends his vast fortune on helping other people in need. And those initiatives initiated among other places in Davos by individuals and their companies have obviously done wonders in areas where other efforts have conspicuosly failed.

There is money to be made in doing good. But firms are not there to solve the world’s political problems. It is the job of governments to govern; don’t let them wiggle out of it.

Bill Gates’ proposal that company should allocate the smartest people to think more about projects that can benefit the poor, prevent climate change and so on, is not new. It is a slight variation on Google’s and maybe other’s provision for that employee can spend time on charitable word.

These are all nice intentions. But how are they going to happen? Klaus Schwab nailed it with his question to Bill Gates: But aren’t all the good initiatives totally dependending on that the company has a CEO who has a personal passion herein? Bill Gates answer was: Well, yes.

Second, the name of the concept creative capitalism seems to me to be a typical flavor-of-the day catchword that does not really describe what Bill Gates was trying to explain to us. In the similar vein it could have been replaced with innovative capitalism. It does not mean anything. Maybe, something like caring captalism or social capitalism would be better for the purpose.

It is kind of ironic that Bill Gates constantly stresses the need for captalism and free markets as the main driver for social welfare (I agree on that) when his company has twice within the last decade violated the most important regulation to protect free markets. Whether you agree or not in the correctness of these court decisions, it is a fact that Microsoft has been found in the US to have committed severe violations of their antitrust regulation and in Europa our competition law.

Third, it is nice to see that Bill Gates finally has got the open source message. He repeatedly in his speech stressed that the motivating factor for human beings also in their commercial affairs was not just monetary compensation but also recognition (and not just recognition measured by peoples willingness to pay money for your products). I think that Richard Stallman and Bill Gates are fully in agreement here.

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