Economics, Society and Culture

Bill Gates talks poverty and prosperity at AEI

Image Credit: Jay Westcott

Image Credit: Jay Westcott

Why will there be virtually no poor countries remaining by 2035? How can $2,000 save a life? Will raising the minimum wage increase opportunity in America?

I had the pleasure of discussing these and many other questions with Bill Gates at AEI during a lunchtime conversation yesterday. Naturally, much of our discussion focused on the amazing work the Gates Foundation does to fight poverty overseas. Bill began by explaining that we should all be cautiously optimistic about the state of need worldwide. We live in the least violent, most prosperous era in human history. Today, the kind of severe deprivation that was the global norm mere decades ago is a rare and rapidly vanishing aberration. This miraculous progress is primarily the result of free enterprise, complemented by enlightened policy and philanthropy. Gates took care to remind us that foreign aid and private charity are short-term fixes, not sustainable paths to prosperity. But they play a pivotal role in relieving acute suffering and helping economic development scale up.

Gates offered practical advice to citizens who sincerely want to help the world, but don’t have a lot of money to do so. Citing Alexis de Tocqueville, he lauded the historic willingness of Americans at all levels to contribute their time and their talents to their communities. Avoid paralysis by analysis, he advised—just pick a cause near to your heart and dive in, making sure you can see and touch the results.

We couldn’t let Gates leave AEI without hearing his thoughts on public policy here at home. He had strong words for the “abysmal” education system that denies many American children a fair shot at earning their success. He spoke out about the lack of any real correlation between our soaring spending on education and the system’s results. Bill also laid out his thinking on tax reform and on the minimum wage—like many of us at AEI, he believes that expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit would help working Americans more than a minimum wage hike, and that a progressive consumption tax would be far better than the current system.

Even if you weren’t able to join us live, I invite you to join in our continuing conversation about how government, philanthropy, and free enterprise can intersect to build a better world. Full video and transcript of the event are available online. And from all of us at AEI, a sincere “thank you” to our friends at the Gates Foundation for making yesterday possible.

Click here to see Bill Gates’s “favorite AEI paper.”

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