In a speech to the World Economic Forum earlier this year, Bill Gates presented the concept of “Creative Capitalism” as a means of reducing poverty through free market mechanisms. Describing himself as an “impatient optimist”, Gates cited the many improvements in people’s lives in many parts of the world — improved governance, life expectancy and the status of women and minorities — before presenting the figure of 1 billion people going hungry. As an entrepreneur capitalist, Gates’ bottom line is in business terms:
[…] the bottom billion misses the benefits of the global economy, and yet they’ll suffer from the negative effects of economic growth they missed out on.
It’s not how most of the bottom billion will see it, but it’s language appropriate for Gates’ audience.
The challenge, according to Gates, is how to marry self-interest and altruism: self-interest is sustainable and seeks innovation; altruism … well, it’s a question of principles — either you have them or you don’t.
What’s interesting in Gates’ proposal is that he presents altruism not as a good thing in itself, but in terms of improving business, either through profit incentives — tapping new markets — or positive recognition and improved brand image.
Maybe I’m not creatively capitalistic enough, but it still seems like a deal heavily weighted in favour of the rich — for them it’s a win-win situation: either increased profits or improved image. The other point is that private companies get to decide on who and how to help, with whatever rules and principles they choose. The role of governments is not just to “channel our caring for those who can’t pay” (Gates); they stand for principles that exist independently of any business motivation, principles that have been democratically formulated and that represent fundamental universal concepts.
A good example of governments working with business, according to Gates’ world view is the following:
[…] any drug company that develops a new treatment for a neglected disease like malaria or TB can get a priority review from the FDA for another product they’ve made. If you develop a new drug for malaria, your profitable say cholesterol-lowering drug could go on the market up to a year earlier. This priority review could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Win-win? I feel uncomfortable with it … it just feels as if principles are for sale, part of a clever deal.
Am I wrong?
More importantly …
This post was motivated by a couple of emails I received from International Medical Corps (IMC) asking me to promote their current campaign to win $1.5 million from American Express (you didn’t think the title was meant for you, did you? ;-)).
It struck me as potentially scammy, a more sophisticated version of DR CLEMENT OKON and his Nigerian millions. But after running background checks, it seems to be legit.
Nevertheless, I hesitate still. I’m sure it would qualify as an example of creative capitalism according to Gates. Amex may get new members, because only members can actually vote, but certainly gets lots of positive recognition, which, as far as I can see, is generated by IMC’s effective viral marketing (we got widgets!).
Hmmm … Amex is offering $2.5 million for members’ projects. How much would they have paid for a campaign to promote positive recognition on the scale of IMC’s efforts? That’s yet another “win” for business, I guess.
I’ll leave other comments to you (Click to feed hungry children? Discuss).
Here’s the link to the IMC project.
P.S. Syntax abuse alert! I can’t help noticing the missing apostrophe in “Members project” — I can only read it now with “project” as a verb, and yes, members do project!