Power Point: The nightmare will pass

January 27, 2009, 3:39 AM UTC

In his first annual letter for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill Gates writes that Warren Buffett recently sent him an excerpt from John Maynard Keynes’ essay, “The Great Slump of 1930,” which relates to today’s crisis:

“This is a nightmare, which will pass away with the morning. For the resources of nature and men’s devices are just as fertile and productive as they were. The rate of our progress towards solving the material problems of life is not less rapid. We are as capable as before of affording for everyone a high standard of life—high, I mean, compared with, say, twenty years ago—and will soon learn to afford a standard higher still. We were not previously deceived. But today we have involved ourselves in a colossal muddle, having blundered in the control of a delicate machine, the working of which we do not understand. The result is that our possibilities of wealth may run to waste for a time—perhaps for a long time.”

As Pattie writes today, the former Microsoft chairman reports a 20% drop in the value of his foundation’s assets last year. But he found a silver lining in the fact that his foundation outperformed most other endowments: “I never thought I would say losing 20 percent is a reasonable result,” he writes. Long-term, Gates is confident. “Innovation in every field—from software and materials science to genetics and energy generation—is moving forward at a pace that can bring real progress in solving big problems,” he says. These innovations will “reinvigorate the world economy.”–Jessica Shambora