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Does Bill Gates know how to move from poverty to prosperity?

Bill  Gates talked candidly about poverty, health, education, and prosperity at AEI in an interview by Arthur Brooks
Bill Gates talked candidly about poverty, health, education, and prosperity at AEI in an interview by Arthur Brooks
James George

If he does, maybe the Republican Party has found an answer to Hillary Clinton. Bill Gates knows how to manage a large international corporation and to serve a global customer universe. Does that experience transfer to optimizing performance of the US government enterprise? Does Bill Gates have a plan for producing a sustainable economy under a new energy paradigm?

Bill Gates discusses poverty and prosperity at American Enterprise Institute
Bill Gates discusses poverty and prosperity at American Enterprise Institute
James George

Yes, no, and maybe.

The subject for the American Enterprise Institute conference was “From poverty to prosperity: A conversation with Bill Gates.” Arthur Brooks, AEI’s President conducted the interview superbly, letting Gates share his observations, process, and commentary freely.

There were some notables in the audience including Paul Wolfowitz who is now an AEI scholar. He was former President of the World Bank, United States Ambassador to Indonesia, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense, and former dean of the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

This report is in two parts. Because we are in a forum of economists and number crunchers, there are many references made to metrics and conclusions from data without any of the details present because that would consume far more time than permitted. So, some attention will be given to details in the follow-up.

First observation is that Bill Gates and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are focused not on the USA, but on the world’s most disadvantaged people. Presumably, if there is going to be trickle down investment in eliminating poverty, these philanthropers are going to the very bottom of the stack.

There, Gates says that people are so poor that local community development isn’t possible without outside assistance. The goal is to address priority needs beginning with making people minimally healthy. When children are made healthy, they can begin to learn and prepare to take care of themselves. If they are too sick, they can’t do that and may even become permanently damaged mentally, making them unable to achieve self sustainability.

Along the course of the conversation, Bill Gates took a shot at the American education system, noting that it isn’t working well.

He touched on the idea that capital is drawn to technology investments and not to labor. Educating and preparing children with superior math and science skills is essential to remaining competitive in a global economy.

He commented repeatedly about identifying best practices and encouraging states to adopt them. However, even the best public school systems in America are being outperformed by other nations like Japan for instance. He suggests finding out why, and adopting the practices that make them best.

That common sense patter was intermingled with what makes Bill Gates great. That is, he is analytical and what I call a “Smart Data” guy. He tests policies and ideas scientifically. He measures outcomes, and performs cause and effect analysis. He crunches numbers to determine the truth about performance.

He also threw out some observations such as “This is the least volatile time in history.” The idea is that we can’t use current events as an excuse for not performing better.

He said, “People say that I have a lot of money. I answer by reminding them that I have a lot of consumption.”

In this first cut, hearing Bill Gates think out loud about problems of poverty and education reminds us that we need leaders in government who think and manage like CEOs. They set measurable outcomes and methodically drive policies and processes to achieve them. When correlations fail to prove the process, changes are made based on analyzing the data. He didn’t say it today, but we know that good software is tested before it is delivered. Those things are good for executives to know and believe in.