We have a friend, Jon Ham, who says when he stood up in class one day long ago to make this bold assertion, he was almost stoned to death.
'Bill Gates has done more to help more people on earth than Mother Teresa ever did!'
Now, before you throw your coffee cup through this computer screen at both Mr. Ham and me, hear us out.
He was making a very important point about free enterprise, capitalism and freedom that is not being made very well today by: A) Business people; B) Capitalists; C) Conservatives; D) Republicans and E) Freedom-loving Democrats, Independents and Libertarians anywhere.
Mother Teresa did wonderful things showing the rest of the world how to care for, in a loving manner, the poor, the sick, the frail and those with AIDS through her Missions of Charity Center founded in the slums of Calcutta and then expanded through 133 countries by 4500 sisters.
There can be no doubt that she did far more than 'comfort the sick'. She showed the rest of us how to live with compassion and love for others less fortunate than us.
However, when it comes to the brass tacks of 'helping' people live better, more healthy lives and you put it on the balance scale of numbers of people helped directly, Bill Gates comes out way, way ahead.
Mother Teresa personally may have been able to touch and comfort tens of thousands of people in her lifetime. Many were brief touches of her hand and a soft prayer over their wounded heads.
The development of Microsoft software for the PC by Bill Gates has positively affected the lives of billions of people on earth. From the IT professionals and techies who make their living installing and tweaking computer programs and systems for businesses, large and small; governments; charities; churches and personal home use to the people whose lives have been made exponentially better in quality the world over.
Let's take a closer look at his argument:
Prayers and gestures of sympathy go a long way in making us human as opposed to mere animals or beasts in the wild. Many species kick their poor and frail to the sidelines to protect the pack and out-and-out leave them to be attacked by the hyenas or jackals that follow them.
But even Jesus would offer that the person such as the Good Samaritan who helps others in need in physical, tangible ways by giving them food, water and shelter while helping bind their wounds does far more than the others who offer perhaps a shallow 'God be with you' and walk along their merry way without giving them food, water, shelter or medical attention.
The miracle of free enterprise and free-market capitalism is that the vast majority of its benevolent and ameliorative benefits are accomplished by entrepreneurs and business people who have this one primary and somewhat contradictory motive in mind:
'How Can I Make A Profit Providing A Good Or Service To Other People?'
In its narrowest form, this could be taken as looking like total greed. Which is the narrative that the Obama Administration and many in the news media would like to have the majority of American citizens believe.
In actuality, it is far from it. In a more positive light, it should be considered as 'enlightened mutual benefit' between the owner of the business and the people who work for him/her and the people who buy the product or service.
Entrepreneurs, risk-takers and businessmen and women put their money and investors' money to work plus their time, energy and reputations. Without them, no one would have a job.
And we wouldn't have any taxes paid on profits generated to pay for any entitlement or government program you may like. Think about that for a moment.
Think about the things people have invented and sold that have: A) made our lives better and easier than the desultory lives most of the human population endured during the Middle Ages and times when the Black Plague wiped out close to half of the populations around the world and B) provided jobs for hundreds of millions of people who could the provide better lives for their families and send their kids to colleges where they could learn to invent and develop new technologies that produce new and better products and services.
- Henry Ford and the Automobile-That is an easy one to see. Imagine a life without the mobility and freedom cars provide to hundreds of millions of people in the US alone every day.
- Orville and Wilbur Wright and the Airplane- Same. Thing. Just a little over a century ago, heavier-than-air flight was a mere dream for humans. Today, you can fly coast-to-coast in 4 hours with some new planes being developed that can do it in 90 minutes.
- Any medical device or procedure-If you have ever had any sort of significant operation, you are grateful that A) you didn't live in the Middle Ages and B) that the people who knew how to make the surgical instruments and life-saving machines knew what they were doing.
- Bringing fresh, safe food to market- We bought some amazingly sweet cantaloupe the other day at the local Fresh Market. It had just come in from Chile or somewhere in South America where is it summertime today. Imagine that. We have men and women business-types and workers who can actually go through all that work just to get you a fresh, sweet cantaloupe in North Carolina...in December.
- Plastic Tips on your shoelaces- We are always amazed when we look at anything we use and wonder: 'Who in the world would have thought not only to have made that thing but that he/she could make a lot of money doing so? Check out the plastic tips that wrap around the end of your shoelaces sometime. No real complicated but someone had to A) think about the need for it in the first place and B) how to make billions of them C) with machines D) at the lowest cost possible.
Mother Teresa was an amazing soul. We would not be human if we didn't have people such as Mother Teresa to show us how us how to love one another in truly self-sacrificial ways.
Every single person in America would not be living in the highest standard of living the world has ever known regardless of income status without the miracle compounding effect of free people being able to think and invent new products and services to make our lives better. Thank God we have air-conditioning in the South!
We know there are plenty of bad and dishonest businesspeople who deserve to be prosecuted and thrown into jail every single day. (How many Wall Street bankers have gone to jail as a result of their malfeasance of duty that led to the Implosion of 2008? None. Zero. Nada. They should have been forced into bankruptcy before the banks were bailed out by you, the American taxpayer and then allowed to start over from scratch)
But don't get sucked into the narrative that every business is 'bad' and every business owner is 'awful'. They are not. Perhaps 95% of them do noble and important work for us every single day.
Which is why the 'Bill Gates' of the world have cumulatively done far more to help people in tangible ways than Mother Teresa ever possibly could have done on her own.
Maybe try to have a little 'Mother Teresa' in everything you do this week at work. The results may surprise you.