BOOKCASE: Creative Captitalism A conversation with Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and other Economic Leaders

• Michael Kinsley
• Simon & Schuster
• RRP: US$26.00

What would capitalism look like if it were to shed little of its inbuilt self interest in favour of “other” interest – could it be more effective force for social and global equity?
The possibility of more philanthropic “creative capitalism” postulated by Microsoft founder Bill Gates during speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos last year forms the subject matter of book to which recent events have given even greater currency. Is the self interest at the heart of capitalism also the canker that caused its current meltdown? If so – how could it be changed?​
The “genius of capitalism”, according to Gates, lies in its ability to make self interest serve the wider interest. But, he says, the system needs refinement if its power is to be harnessed to benefit everyone. And being an “impatient optimist” he wants to give it hearty shove in the right direction.
What if corporates devoted more focus to addressing the needs of those at “the bottom of the pyramid” in developing countries thereby earning rewards from both short-term (if smaller, gains) and the potential longer-term gains from helping grow their consumer power? Or how about re-directing little of their innovative talent toward solutions that would benefit the world’s poor? Why not gain some reputational kudos by diverting portion of sales profits to good causes?
From Gates’ speech, Michael Kinsley has generated an absorbing debate that draws on some fairly grunty intellects in the world of business and academia to traverse lot of interesting beliefs around the limits and the possibilities of capitalism.
More vigorous defenders of the status quo don’t want to fix what they don’t see as broke – preferring to merely extend the system’s global reach to those not yet reaping its ability to lift incomes and living standards. Others take Friedmanist view that the fiduciary duty to maximise profits precludes the notion of corporate philanthropy and point out that what Gates practises is actually private philanthropy.
Gates’ supporters meanwhile embrace the notion that capitalism can better reflect human need for value system that rises above the merely pecuniary. The current crisis underlines what some see as “profound and perfectly reasonable misgivings about the rewards structure of contemporary capitalism”. And as Kingsley points out in his introduction, the question of how to combine the good life in moral sense with good life in the material sense is question faced by real people as well as corporates.
The author also describes his book as “literary experiment” in that it is based on enticing bunch of smart people into web-based discussion of creative capitalism – thus tricking them into book.
In my mind it’s an experiment that has definitely paid off.

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