I blogged last month about a Bill Gates speech on “creative capitalism.”
Motivated by the Bill Gates speech, Michael Kinsley and Conor Clarke have undertaken an unusual web experiment in which they invited a number of prominent economists to react to the Gates speech and posted them online.
My colleague Gary Becker is skeptical of Gates’s concept. I love this excerpt from Becker’s post, arguing that Gates misrepresents Adam Smith‘s views on altruism:
[Adam] Smith was skeptical not about the strength of altruism, but about its scope or reach. For example, he uses an example in this book that is highly relevant to the present and to Gates’s quest. He asks “how a man of humanity in Europe” … would respond to hearing “that the great empire of China … was suddenly swallowed up by an earthquake …” His answer was that “if he [this man] was to lose his little finger tomorrow, he would not sleep tonight; but, provided he never saw them [i.e, the people of China], he would snore with the most profound security over the ruin of a hundred million of his brethren, and the destruction of that immense multitude seems plainly an object less interesting to him than this paltry misfortune of his own.” (Part III, Chapter 3)
Just as long as the earthquake doesn’t hit during the Summer Olympics.