Bill Gates: Visionary or Curmudgeon?

Thomas Friedman (The World is Flat, 2005) quotes Bill Gates as saying this about “open-sourcing” and innovation:

You need capitalism [to drive innovation.] To have [a movement] that says innovation does not deserve an economic reward is contrary to where the world is going.  When I talk to the Chinese, they dream of starting a company.  They are not thinking, ‘I will be a barber during the day and do free software at night.’ . . . When you have a security crisis in your software system, you don’t want to say, ‘Where is the guy at the barbershop?’ (p. 101)

Are these the words of a visionary?  Do they assume and promote the best about human nature, or the worst?

When I read this in the context of Friedman’s discussion of open sourcing on pages 81-103, it became clear to me that Gates believes our uneducated  nature is our human nature.  It was clear that he lacks a vision of a world made more beautiful through innovation and virtue.  Virtue has always been more important than innovation, but he believes innovation is all we we can hope for.

The point of Friedman’s section on open sourcing is that many talented people do not need capitalism to drive innovation.  The open sourcing movement is evidence that Gates’s first sentence is not true.

He should have said, “I need capitalism to drive innovation.”   That would have been a true statement, and that is why Bill Gates is not a visionary, just a billionaire curmudgeon.

Now that we have that straight, my questions are:

1.  Can the philanthropy of a curmudgeon improve public education?  What does that look like?

2.  What would it look like, if Gate’s philanthropy were based on a vision of our educated human nature, instead of our uneducated one?

It pains me to see so much money wasted pursuing greater (1) teaching “effectiveness” and  (2) technology.  Neither idea has improved education over the last 50 years.  Why does Gates believe they will now?

(Please “comment” with your description of such an improvement.  If you know of one, I missed it.)


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