Bill Gates says right now is the best time to be alive for all of us, but even the billionaire philanthropist seems to believe life may be too good for society’s ultrawealthy people right now.
Gates affirmed his belief that right now is “dramatically” the best time to be alive during his annual “Ask Me Anything” session on Reddit Wednesday, given the rapid pace of scientific innovations and advancements that are boosting humanity’s chances of tackling existential challenges.
He discussed how momentous breakthroughs in artificial intelligence and clean energy technology are making him optimistic about the future, but also answered a number of questions on the ethics of being a billionaire, and whether it should be considered acceptable for a single person to possess that much wealth.
Gates, who has a current net worth of just over $100 billion and has had two spells atop the list of the world’s richest people, had an intriguing answer to that moral dilemma: While he agreed that super-wealthy people should be taxed higher and more billionaires should follow his lead and give away all their wealth, he does not think anyone should be stripped the chance of becoming a billionaire.
“The incentive to create new companies is still a good thing, I think. Even if taxes go up I still wouldn’t ban anyone from being worth a billion, but that is just one opinion. I have been very lucky,” he wrote in the AMA.
Tax the rich, but not too much
While he supported the idea of rich people paying more in taxes, Gates defended what the private sector and personal financial motivations could accomplish as the world gears up to meet its existential challenges.
Gates’ foundation, and his various private enterprises focus on devising solutions to climate change, educational gaps, and lack of access to health care are a model for billionaire philanthropy. During his Reddit AMA, he even referred to giving away his wealth as his “full-time job.”
But even Gates doesn’t think philanthropy will be enough to address the world’s biggest threats, as the Microsoft founder remains a believer in the power of free markets under good guidance from governments. In his annual year-end letter published in December, Gates wrote “philanthropy alone can’t eliminate greenhouse gases. Only markets and governments can achieve that kind of pace and scale.”
In the same letter, Gates pointed out that while it “may seem strange” to discuss the importance of profit-making ventures in a philanthropic context, the private sector and profit motives remain well-equipped to deliver fast and significant contributions as the world steps up to meet its major challenges.
But while Gates stood up for companies and the pursuit of wealth, he said in his Reddit AMA that billionaires could stand to be kept in check through higher taxes, adding he was “surprised” taxes have not been increased more while acknowledging “things are tough for a lot of people.”
“I am surprised taxes have not been increased more. For example, capital gains rates could be the same as ordinary income rates. I know things are tough for a lot of people,” he wrote.
Gates also admitted that wealthy people, even philanthropists, can sometimes get carried away, noting that “being rich can easily make you out of touch.”
Gates announced last year that he plans to give “virtually all” of his wealth to his foundation, eventually seeking to remove himself from the list of richest people. In 2010, Gates started the Giving Pledge with his now ex-wife Melinda French Gates, along with fellow billionaire and close friend Warren Buffett. The pledge—which began with 40 signatories—asks billionaires who sign it to “publicly commit to give the majority of their wealth to philanthropy either during their lifetimes or in their wills.”
As of June 2022, the project has received 236 pledges from 28 countries.
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