Saturday, August 2, 2008

I like that guy who made that micro-soft stuff

Here's a link to a great article written by Bill Gates for TIME magazine on how capitalism needs to be more creative in not just making more money but also how making money can go hand in hand with fighting poverty, curing disease and helping the billions who live on less than $1 a day. After reading "Jesus for President" I've been thinking a lot about how we as America (or simply those spending large amounts of money on material things) can help those in need within the capitalist system and Gates makes some interesting suggestions on how capitalism can actually benefit the poor and why it's important for companies to lose money on certain products to help those in need.

Check it out here.


P.S.  The heat here in Tunisia is horrific and the humidity is even worse.


Matt K said...

Bill: "the system - capitalism - that has done so much good in the world"

Bear: We can't simply assume that because capitalism has done some 'good' (i.e. making those of us rich who are fortuitously blessed to be born into a certain socio-economic situation or who have somehow tamed the beast known as 'the market') that it is inherently good and that expanding it will allow its benefits to expand to all equally. Because, if we know one thing, we know that capitalism is not egalitarian and it inherently excludes certain populations based on access to resources and market preferences. Capitalism is not social. More capitalism will bring more exclusion and atomization of certain populations.

Bill: Some corporations have identified brand-new markets among the poor for life-changing technologies like cell phones

Bear: Are you fucking kidding me, Bill? Do you expect me to fall at the feet of capitalism - giving it my devotion and singing its praises because 'the poor' have access to cell phones. Now, don't get me wrong. Cell phones aren't the pinnacle of all evil, but neither are they they the pinnacle of 'life-changing technologies'. Do you know what would be an even more fundamental need for life-changing technology? Access to potable water. But does there exist a high earning potential in water? Unfortunately, no.

Bill: Capitalism harnesses self-interest in a helpful and sustainable way but only on behalf of those who can pay.

Bear: Well said.

Bill: We need a system that draws in innovators and businesses in a far better way than we do today.

Bear: It's true that we need to draw in this group of people. Philanthropists and other life-long bureaucrats are often inept at simple market calculations, but is it wise to say that we need to simply offer up the poor up to the ravenous wolves that are entrepreneurs. It is not sufficient to allow the market to expand in hopes of bettering people's lives who are currently outside the market. Capital and the benefits of innovation don't simply begin covering the globe evenly. Capital hops around the world and the ironic thing is that the peripheral countries are already fully immersed into the market - it is built upon them. Capitalism has a demand for cheap raw materials, and (given the unfortunate history of colonialism) the global south has been set up to fill this need. Capitalism with 'good' side effects is just as likely to transform into capitalism with 'evil' side effects. It is not an inherently good thing we can trust to justly overcome the ills of poverty. Innovation is good when it is meant for good, but we cannot assume it is good when it is inherently meant for profit - it may prove itself to be good, but we cannot assume it to be so.

Bill: Of course, governments in developing countries have to do a lot to foster capitalism themselves. They must pass laws and make regulations that let markets flourish, bringing the benefits of economic growth to more people

Bear: Here it is, Bill. Just what I expected. Your neoliberal vision of privatization. This is exactly the problem underlying your entire argument. The road after neoliberal decentralization is littered with failures. We create a space in which the market functions separately from the state. The real irony lies in this fact: the market is not a national resource - it is an international reality. Now, Bill, you understand this, but what you don't seem to understand is that the market benefits those who control it and unfortunately the global south is not in control of the market. If a country opts for privatization, the natural resources that once contributed to the developing nation's budget, now pad the pocketbooks of the global corporations based where? In the developed world.

Unfortunately, I have to flatly reject your argument Bill because it is based on a completely flawed idea that market expansion will inevitably lead to good deeds. market expansion leads to one thing primarily: profit. Profit doesn't give a shit about people.

Jack is "that guy" said...

I think you entirely missed the idea of "creative capitalism." I totally agree with you that historically and (most likely in the future) capitalism takes more than it ever gives but Bill was making the point that it might actually be possible to turn a profit AND help some people along the way. He wants to change the idea that capitalism is only worried about turning the biggest profit ever but maybe it could also benefit those who are not within the system (meaning they actually do not receive any benefits, which would come in the form of material goods).

And here's his answer to what he's really trying to say.

Bill: "Creative capitalism isn't some big new economic theory. And it isn't a knock on capitalism itself. It is a way to answer a vital question: How can we most effectively spread the benefits of capitalism and the huge improvements in quality of life it can provide to people who have been left out?"

Where does he say he wants to spread the negative effects of capitalism? Of course there will be side effects to the spreading of the capitalism market. The point is that capitalism must spread for those in need to even have the opportunity to improve their lives, have the equipment to build wells, buy or be given the medicine they need or buy a shirt that their neighbor maybe made at the local factory in their village. Instead of picking apart his example of cell phones you should have thought about the fact that the capitalist system is where the money is and without the money no person, government or non-profit can help anyone.

Capitalism is the system we function within, so, why isn't it possible to change the mindset of capitalism into one that looks at gaining a profit from helping others? That might sound horrible but obviously the intrinsic value of helping others hasn't done much or made people excited to give to others so instead of destroying the system of capitalism why can't it be expanded to developing nations that need the money? The most stable, most free and safe countries in the world function off of the capitalist system. And governments and non-profits can be the ones who point to where the needs are.

And if someone can come up with an idea to erase the gap between the have and the have nots that doesn't turn into communism, be my guest.

Anonymous said...

Why is that any idea to erase the gap between the haves and have nots can't be (a form of) communism? This seems to fall into the western error of association Communism with failed-soviet-communism; which (as Terry Eagleton put it) equivalent to equating the Christian church with the Crusades.

I do agree with much of what 'Matt K' previously said, so won't waste too much time, but I do think there is one point to be made. Isn't expanding capitalism to help correct the problems caused by capitalism equivalent to finding a way we can 'use' unprotected sex to fight AIDs?

You said:
"The point is that capitalism must spread for those in need to even have the opportunity to improve their lives"

They key word here is 'must'; this way of thinking presupposes that there is no 'outside' of capitalism and agrees with Fukayama's idea that we are living in the 'end of history'. This is dangerous because there is an inherent metaphysics (and religion) inherent in this way of approaching capitalism. If there is no outside, they capitalism thus defines our very existence; and as we all know, "you can't serve God and money".

You also said:
"The most stable, most free and safe countries in the world function off of the capitalist system."

I think is also fairly erroneous. First of all, maybe the reason these countries are the most 'stable, free, and safe' is because they are the ones with the biggest guns? America isn't safe because it's a peaceful nation, it's safe because it's figured out 'creative' ways to kill without being killed and keeping its own wars far from its shores.

May of the 'creative capitalist' (also referred to by Slavoj Zizek in his book 'Violence' as 'liberal communist) will argue that we need 'creative capitalism' to right the poverty in much of this world that they link with the emergence of radical militant movements. They fail to take the step of recognizing that poverty did not develop in a vacuum, its a clear effect of capitalist globalization and the total idolatry of the market.

As all of us discussing this so far are committed christians, it must be said that as those who believe there is something 'other' than this world and system; it is shocking that many christians are incapable of thinking the outside of capitalism. It's also clear from reading the first bit of Acts that capitalism isn't a viable political option for those inside the church. Now I know this breaks a bit from the article and initial discussion; but I 'understand' secular liberal citizens getting on board with the Bill's and their creative capitalism; but for the church to advocate/get behind such a program seems to be a simply case of the church not actually wanting to be the church and thus leading the world do it for them.

One last thing...does creative capitalism just aim to create more capital? and then distribute it in a more 'just' way? I think if you read economics this is just silly, we clearly have enough capital! I read the other day that if you took all the money spent on pet food in the US and Western Europe you could feed and provide medical care for everyone in the third world! (There are similar statistics for money spent on makeup in the US and Ice Cream in Europe). I think the point is that our way of thinking economics needs to move past the creation and accumulation of capital and really think about how to justly distribute capitalism. This conversation is often avoided because the term Communism seems to be largely associated with bleak, militaristic, facist, regimes; but we need to move past that. For all it's problems (and lord is had a lot) at least in Cuba EVERYONE gets healthcare and EVERYONE eats. I feel like if a small island nation blocked out of all of the relevant international trade organizations has enough to take care of everyone, then many well off countries already posses the capital to this and more.

Matt K said...

This is a quote you used to show what the heart of Bill's argument is

"Creative capitalism isn't some big new economic theory. And it isn't a knock on capitalism itself. It is a way to answer a vital question: How can we most effectively spread the benefits of capitalism and the huge improvements in quality of life it can provide to people who have been left out?"

My very problem, which I hoped to make clear in my late-night rant, but which I apparently came up short of is this: no one has been left out of capitalism.

Capitalism has already made its way around the world and it has done so under the guise of 'economic freedom' 'development' 'privatization', etc. Capitalism doesn't cover all persons equally, and it is probably the economic system least conducive to 'bridging that gap'.

Regarding your desire to bridge that gap. I'm under the impression that we should stop and think about the idea of capital. It's a material resource; it is far from infinitely available. We in the west have pooled the majority of available capital in the world. It is likely that there does not exist enough material wealth for everyone in the world to live at the economic standard of those in the West.

I feel as if it would be more beneficial for us to critique the capitalism that has led to our unbending control over the world's resources than it would to spread the system that is the historical pinnacle of economic exploitation of the global south.

Jack is "that guy" said...

First and foremost, I absolutely agree with what you guys are saying. We must move out of the capitalist system and rethink our economic systems in order to quit exploiting the global south and help in meeting the needs of those who don't have access to clean water, who are suffering from malnutrition, etc.

Obviously I have done a horrendous job of making myself sound as if I'm 100% on the side of Bill and capitalism (which I'm really glad we just refer to him as Bill. Thanks Bear), especially after I reread what I had written.

My point is simply that corporations taking the step to actually give and help those whom they have exploited is a step in the right direction, even if it's not the perfect step within the perfect system. It at least is an attempt to do some good within a broken system.

Moving towards a system of wealth redistribution is great but I also am recognizing that this will not happen overnight and the current economic system we function in (capitalism) must be reformed and even completely reimagined into something that's not exploitive and attempts to erase the wealth gap. And this cannot happen instantly.

The reason I liked Bill's article was simply because he was presenting a practical method of actually helping others (again, it's not the best method) and by his track record he at the very least is making an attempt, which is reasonable to respect.

Now of course the next step is figuring out how to function outside of capitalism. And what economic system can function globally? And since you brought it up Mike, how does the church fit into all of this? Do we simply attempt to remove ourselves from the system? And how Christians begin to think outside of the capitalist box that they have been brought up in? (How about we first start actually tithing and we'll see how that changes things!!) How do we stop China from repeating the exact same mistakes made by the West in exploiting Africa and other parts of the world (an economist from the African Development Bank and I discussed this very issue when I was helping him with his english)?

All I know is it's going to be a process.

Thanks for the discussion. I love you guys.

I without a doubt did a poor job of saying what I wanted to say.