Bill Gates Ponders Extreme Poverty

Nigerian refugee camp - Newsha Tavakolian, Magnum Photos.jpg

Bill Gates—the founder of Microsoft and the Gates Foundation, and now the second richest person in the world with a net worth of $91.9 billion—is so worried about extreme poverty in Africa that he’s proselytizing from the pages of the New York Times.

Philosophically, Gates is on the right side of history. He celebrates the extraordinary success of the “new agricultural techniques and technologies” that brought us the Green Revolution and demolished the doomsday prophecies of neo-Malthusians like Paul Ehrlich. And he’s right to argue that the need for investment in health and education in sub-Saharan Africa is urgent because the baby boom now underway in that region will produce the future leaders who will “transform subsistence farms into profitable small businesses, provide a bank account for every adult on their mobile phones, [and] eradicate malaria and other neglected diseases.”

But even so.

One needn’t be any sort of hard-bitten class warrior to see the monstrous irony in Gates’ latest public-relations gambit. If Oxfam is right and the eight richest people in the world today hold the same wealth as the poorest half of humanity (i.e. four billion or so people), maybe—just spit-balling here—maybe we could use a bit more o’ that ol’ global wealth redistribution.