Bill Gates Points out the Contradictions of Capitalism

Speaking at the Global Grand Challenges Summit March 12-13, Bill Gates did something that most successful capitalists would never dream of doing –he rebuffed the idea that “the market knows best”.  Voicing his frustrations over the lack of funding for research on diseases like malaria (that mainly affects poorer populations), he admitted that it is the very nature of capitalism that means that there is more funding available for middle-class vanities like male baldness than for programs that seek to redress inequalities or cure diseases in developing nations.

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“Our priorities are tilted by marketplace imperatives,” he said. “The malaria vaccine in humanist terms is the biggest need. But it gets virtually no funding. But if you are working on male baldness or other things you get an order of magnitude more research funding because of the voice in the marketplace…”

Gates feels that because of this glaring contradiction between market imperatives and what the world actually needs, philanthropic organizations like his Gates Foundation need to step in to compensate for this “flaw in the pure capitalistic approach”.  With the continual push back from the Right wing, neoliberals and libertarians against state interference in market mechanisms, sadly this seems to be the case.  However, expecting NGOs and charity organizations to step in to fix the negative externalities of the capitalist system –such as climate change, global poverty, hunger, and disease– is hopelessly flawed.

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As long as the neoliberal capitalist system continues to operate to maximize profits, environments and labourers will continue to be exploited and degraded –and as long as the state continues to operate with the central task of managing and enabling the economy (or the utopian ‘free market’), then it will never have the political power needed to actually make the changes needed to address climate change.  The state will continue to be lobbied and crippled by the interests of Big Oil/capital, and Big Oil/capital will continue its quest for profits at the expense of the environment (in terms of extraction, pipeline construction, oil spills, etc., and in terms of all of the negative effects of climate change).  The North American lifestyle that we’ve come to take for granted is not sustainable; it’s only been made possible by securing cheap carbon (through war) and by neo-colonial activities that have impoverished the rest of the world.  Unless we are willing to reign in the unrealizable “American Dream” along with the purely individualistic interests of capitalism, no political leaders or charitable organizations will be able to stop the runaway train of warming temperatures.  Nor will they be able to stop global hunger or suffering from curable diseases, for that matter.  From the mouth of Bill Gates himself : unregulated capitalism will never solve global issues –only, maybe, male baldness.

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