Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Kinder, Gentler Bill Gates?

Bill Gates has got up and told the World Economic Forum in Davos that there needs to be a more benevolent capitolism in order to help the world's poor. No word yet on whether this means Microsoft will in the future avoid violating contracts, establishing monopolies, or producing over-priced programs that crash all the time while spreading out the welcome mat for computer viruses.

Actually, Gates' commentary centers around a realization that cool new products which seem like they'd bring all sorts of good to the world often aren't affordable for the world's poor. (Who would have thought it.) He calls on companies to investigating producing products that the poor can afford. It will make their lives better, and there are so many poor it's a huge market!

For all that this sort of thing is easily mockable: there is some truth to this. However, I think it also serves to underline a blind spot that some people seem to have. Simply because one endorses an essentially capitalistic economy as a good economic structure does not mean that all activity must be capitalistic. So while, yes, it's a good idea to make products that the world's poor can use and afford, it's also not necessary to formulate charity in business terms. Real charity should be just that.

4 comments:

Rick Lugari said...

IIRC, a number of years ago there was an interest in distributing old PCs to third world educational institutions (or something to that effect) and the people wanted MS to issue free license to load antiquated Windows OS software but Benevolent Bill and company refused.

To me that's just nuts. The product had gone through it's cycle, there would be no further income from it possible and there would be no manufacturing costs - one disk could load a million computers. In trying to be charitable myself I don't normally make judgments like this on others, but that whole thing struck me as one of the most greedy, uncharitable and nastiest things I've seen from either individuals or corporations.

Jeff Miller said...

Rick,

Well the policy has changed and they are offering very cheap licenses to third world countries.

Though the main problem with big businessmen in helping the poor is they often think in terms of technology or other items for the poor. When most often it is food and items such as livestock that would be the most useful. Basic medicines are another thing that is lacking yet most poor countries are inudated with condoms and birth control.

Now as to Darwin's windows screed at the top. I use both OSX and Windows (XP and Vista) and while I prefer OSX I don't think Windows crashes all the time. Since 2000 and XP on I seldom experience crashes and as a software developer I certainly tax machines. I also don't think Microsoft is a Monopoly. There have always been alternative and even free OS's that people can turn to. Dominating a market is not really a monopoly and would be like saying Apple has a monopoly because they dominate the market via the iPod or iTunes. As for viruses and trojans, Microsoft has made some bad decisions, but unlike apple then can't just totally move to a Unix based OS and say to customers sorry you can no longer run older programs. When you have such a large market share you just can't start over. Though as a long time computer and internet user I have never gotten a trojan or a virus by taking simple precautions and not visiting dangerous sites. There was a recent OSX trojan on porno sites showing that risky computer (and moral) behavior open yourself up to attacks even on much more secure systems. That being said though I do most of my work now on my Mac and use my Windows machine pretty much only for work in writing software for the military.

Darwin said...

Jeff,

To be fair, I've found Windows XP and 2000 pretty stable (have to use them at work, though the home machines are Linux or OSX.) I have, however, had all sorts of issues with Office, which I have to use very, very heavily (Excel and Access) at work. So that's mostly what I was referring to.

softwareNerd said...

I do not grudge Gates giving away his fortune. However, he is also starting to lecture to others and becoming a salesperson for altruism. And, in his recent speeches, he is becoming a spokesman against capitalism. The solutions he offers are old wine in old bottles.

As another blog put it: "... Gates' ... fundamental error, altruism. ... ... What's Gates solution? It's nothing new, just the good old mixed economy of course."