Q: You used to be the richest people in the world. Now you’re the second?
A: That’s right.
Well as I give money away, I’d be the fourth and the fifth, in someday I’ll
give it all away.
Q: We want to
know, you were once the richest people in the world, now you’re the biggest
donor. Why you make this huge shift?
A: When I was
working at Microsoft, the goal was to make great software. And the fact that created
the value of Microsoft ownership, there is a huge amount of wealth. I didn’t
expect that you know. I didn’t need that. That doesn't change how many
hamburgers I eat or how many sweaters I wear, so I reached the limit sort of
personal consumption a long time ago. So, that extra wealth is available to
have an impact. And so, that’s why I studied why children died and thought,”
Hey, is this being taken care of?” And in that case, I found that almost no
money was going to malaria research. And so I found my cause to turn to my
second career, which involves giving this money back in partnership with my
wife and Warren Buffet. And so, it’s very fun work. It’s working with
scientists, and it’s travelling the world; it’s partnering with a government
like China saying “You’re the expert, what are they thinking, what can we do
together for seeds and vaccines”. Anyway, it’s very enjoyable, so I’m not
making any sacrifice, and I’m not giving up my lunch to do this work, it’s all
Q: In this year your
report, Goalkeepers, you said you’ll keep focusing on inequality. So in your
mind, what is the inequality most around the world? Women, education, disease
control, or income poverty?
A: Well, often we
talk about income, and that’s pretty important. You know, people living in
extreme poverty who don’t have enough resources to buy food always worried about
their survival. We really want to get rid of that extreme poverty. But another
measure that the foundation has focused a lot on is health. You know, we look
at how many children are dying and how we can reduce that number. When we first
got started, it was 10 million were dying every year back in the year 2000. And
now that’s been cut in half. So it’s about 5 million now. So, that’s really
good progress. If you take rich countries, it’s well under 1%, but if you take
the poorest countries, there are still places where it’s over 15%. A child in
Finland, which is the lowest, had 50 times lower chance of dying than the child
in Nigeria, which is a quite poor African country. So that range. You know, our
view is that it is one of the greatest injustices, and the world has enough
knowledge and resources. We should be able to reduce that dramatically.
Q: Every year in
the Goalkeepers, on the first page, we saw the 17 goals as topics from the
global goals. Which one do you think is easy to achieve, and which one do you
think is hard to realise and why?
A: Health is very
central to all these goals, and that’s where the foundation has chosen to focus.
And of course the science of how we make vaccines and how we understand how to
stop malaria. Every year the world is getting smarter. So, I put that in a very
primary position, because if you’re malnourished and not healthy, then
everything else like education or being productive is very very difficult. And
if we can really solve health and education, those are the two that to me are
enabling. I don’t want to downplay - the environment is very important - all
the different goals. But the countries that can take care of themselves are the
ones that have really improved health and education. And China is a fantastic
example. Starting in 1990, agricultural productivity, investment in education
and health. It’s really phenomenal how those things enabled the incredible
Q: So, what's your
expectation for the next step for the health, even though it's maybe the
equality the most? What's the next step
for the foundation you want to do?
A: Well, I’d
highlight two things. First, we still have 5 million children dying every year now.
In 2030 we should cut that in half again, get it down to below 2.5 million. And
there are some diseases like Poliomyelitis that paralyses children and kill
some. That one in the next 3-4 years should be able to be eradicated. Over a longer-term,
you know probably in 20-25 years, we should be able to take malaria and
eradicate that. That’s still killing, just malaria, over half a million
children every year and hurting tens of millions. You know these very
aggressive goals. We’re talking with people in China who make malaria drugs and
bednets and the government is there strengthening their partnerships with
Africa; how can we work together to eliminate malaria.
Q: How do you
think China can make more contribution to that?
A: Absolutely, China’s
economic growth has been good for the world. You know China has expertise in
many many areas, but now it’s thinking OK and asking African countries what their
priorities are. The kind of infrastructure China does is very important. Roads
are key to economic growth. But these countries are saying “Hey please help us
with malaria” Tanzania as an example where it’s three-ways partnerships now: the
Gates Foundation, Tanzania, and China. We’re doing this pilot projects, and
we’ve been having some good results. Yes, I think health will be an area that
China can help the poor countries a lot.
Q: Talking about
China, we know that the economic growth is so fast in the past decades, and
China depends on two factors: one is globalization, and another one is
population bonus, but the situation now is complicated. So do you have any
suggestion for China and the Chinese young people?
A: Certainly, the
quality of education. You know the universities are getting better and better, in
some cases like Tsinghua being one of the best in the world, and the other ones
are keeping improving. That trend towards the quality of education will allow
China in areas with really high-paying jobs and innovative jobs to contribute
to both their successes and the world by and large. The economic growth may not
achieve the same percentages in the past, but as long as the job market is
working well, and the anti-poverty programs are working well, China should be
very proud of what it’s doing, even if the absolute economic growth isn’t going
to maintain the really high level that you’ve had in the past.
Q: What’s your
comment to the globalization? Maybe we can find some hinder on that?
A: I’m a huge
believer in globalization, and the countries mutually benefit from that. Right now,
we see some countries pulling back from that, even in some ways the USA is
pulling back from that. I think it will be a strong political debate. I don’t
think we’ll see a dramatic reversal, but we see there are some voices that
speak out against that, and it would be a good, open discussion. The road for
innovation, whether it’s health, climate change, or IT, the pace of innovation
is going to stay very strong. And that creates huge job opportunities, including
China, is doing great work in those areas.
Q: That’s good
news. In the last Goalkeepers Report, you kept the focus on investing in youth,
especially in Africa, because it depends on traditional economics. The
healthier you are, the better education for the youth, and you get a better
return for that. But do you consider something is changing about the innovation
of technology, which has the huge power to change the world? Do you still think
the human capital theory is still there?
A: Well, the job
market is very strong, and the high salaries are there for well-educated people.
If you look at the satisfaction and health of those people, it’s very good, so
there is a lot of benefit in individual, and for a country, as it invests in
health and education of the people. It’s the main asset. Even if we have lots
of robots and software, human capital will be super important. Some of the
things that require less education like just driving around, it could be
substituted, but if anything, that just creates more value to make sure that
those educational investments are well done.
Q: Do you think we
can find more opportunities after the Luis Turning Point? Like China, we can
still find more and more population bonus from that? Maybe we can use AI and
robots. Do you think it's working?
A: Well, I think
economic growth can continue even when the workforce is not growing because the
productivity of these tools will make the productivity per worker much higher.
Even in a society like Japan that is aging, they’ll be able to increase their
output which is a good thing, because you want to have those resources to take
care of the older generation to help them be able to retire and have benefits.
So yes, even as the size of the workforce goes down, the economic opportunities
are still huge.
A: It's the field
I work in. I think I got one wrong.
Q: Just one?
A: You know, these
questions are about my current full-time job. It’s like asking a cab driver
about directions. And I was a friend of Hans. His very first speech at TED I
was there. And I realized that he’s telling a story better than I’ve ever heard
before, including the story of how you improve health, that actually the
population goes down, which is very surprising to many people. And that whole
way he presented data, my wife and I got to be very good friends with him. It’s
a shame that he died.
A: Most people,
even educated people, get less than 50% right. University professors actually
do worse than the average person. He is very articulate about this. When we
read about disasters, and the news media does a better job of telling us the
worst thing anywhere in the world we read about. When I was young, we didn’t
know so much about earthquakes or in other countries. And because as human we
like to solve problems, we are always looking at, oh, this is a potential
problem. Things are going well like reducing childhood death or improving
literacy; you don’t dwell on that, you mostly dwell on “Here is where we need
to do more work”. So Hans is not saying things have improved so much that we
should be lazy. It’s because people care and worry that vaccines have been
invented and they are not getting out to more and more children. But to
honestly assess, we have to know these numbers that the world has improved and that
doing more types of innovation that’s gotten us progress, we should feel good
Q: I think Hans
has given us a relevant and useful method to divide the whole world in a
different way, and this chart is very impressive. But my question is, you live on
this side. This is your point.
A: Yeah, I’m
individually even luckier.
Q: But not the
foundation, and your full-time job is doing this?
Q: How could you create such a huge space for this. It’s across civilization, religions, and different social system, and different education. How do you do that?
A: The desire to have your children survive exists in every one of these countries. Mothers want their children to survive. And human biology about..., if the vaccine works in one group of humans, will it work in another group, is essentially the same. By creating a measles vaccine or an HIV vaccine, even though you don’t understand the culture and the practices of these people, you can benefit them. Things like roads and electricity and better seeds are helpful. You make a very good point that to actually deliver these products; you need to connect with the people who live in these communities, whether it’s the tribal leaders or religious leaders. For example, educating a mother that you should vaccine your child in these countries, I don’t know how to do that. But I can make money and make sure they’re creating women’s groups where women get together and talk to each other, and that’s a great form for women to explain to each other about vaccination. You’re right, it takes a lot of work, that how to reach all the children in the world who deserve to get these vaccines. You know, these places are very different, and the government in some places are even not existent.
A: It seems like a clear thing to value all these human lives. Once you visit those places, it’s very hard to ignore the problem. If you’ve never been there, you’re kind of like “Yeah I don’t know, is that really that bad? Is it hard to help?” But once you go there and meet those people, I think for the rest of your life you’ll wonder, isn’t that the most morally important that you can work on?
Q: Now you’re doing your best and with all your effort to narrow the gap between rich and poor, but unfortunately maybe the statistics are showing the gap may be widened.
A: Actually, global income inequality is going down. And the reason for that is that the middle-income countries like India and China have been growing their economy faster than the rich countries. Although you have some inequality within the country, there is enough equality that globally, incomes are less than equal. Within many countries, inequality has gone up. So that’s a political question, do you have a tax system that’s so progressive that it’s taking more from the rich and creating a stronger safety net to help out the poorest. Our goal isn’t everybody to be exactly equal, but we should have a basic safety net that helps everyone.
A: Well, the progress
on global health is super exciting. It's a movement. There's lots of people involved. But to have been part of that, you know, we're really proud of it. And if we can finish polio, which I'm very optimistic, you know, that would be very satisfying. And malaria will take longer, but, you know, that's a milestone I look forward to. So, I love taking on that kind of tough challenges, hiring very smart people with a wide variety of expertise, including science, to do these things. This is fun work and we're seeing progress, you know, and we see that people care about these issues. So, even though we have setbacks, you know, I love it. I'm lucky to have a second career that is very fulfilling.