TEXT OF INTERVIEW
KAI RYSSDAL: The World Economic Forum later this month in Davos is going to be a busy affair. The official theme of the conference, which was announced today, will be “Shaping a Post-Crisis World.”
Last year — pre-crisis — the economic scene was quite different. Instead of talking about ways to increase profitability, Bill Gates challenged corporations in another way. He urged them to be more socially responsible by engaging in what he called “creative capitalism.”
Exactly how that might be done sparked Michael Kinsley’s interest. Kinsley’s known Gates for a while — Microsoft used to own Slate.com, which Kinsley founded. And he used a conversation with Gates as the foundation for a book about Gates’s idea called, conveniently, “Creative Capitalism.”
Michael Kinsley, welcome to the program.
MICHAEL KINSLEY: Thanks.
RYSSDAL: So, a year ago at Davos Bill Gates gives this speech on creative capitalism. Here you are with a book out, sort of about that conversation. What was he talking about?
KINSLEY: He was talking in general about the idea that business and capitalism as a theory needed to work harder to solve some problems like poverty in the Third World — that even philanthropy on a scale that he practices it isn’t big enough to solve.
RYSSDAL: What are the mechanics, then? Do companies just take a little bit of their profits, a little of that shareholder wealth and spread it around?
KINSLEY: He thinks that it’s at least more organically connected to the corporation than just giving money. So, Microsoft gives software and training to poor countries. And that is much more connected to its mission, and even connected to its profits. And he would say that is much more what creative capitalism is supposed to be.
RYSSDAL: There are a lot of back and forths in this book. And a lot of really good points are made. I was struck by one of them, which is, you know, you’re sort of forcing or legislating, without the force of law, good corporate behavior. Now, obviously we hope for that to begin with, but you can’t make somebody be good.
KINSLEY: One of the possible solutions to that theoretical problem is something Bill calls “recognition.” He says people want to maximize their profits for themselves. They also want to help others. Adam Smith, the king of self-interest, wrote another book besides “The Wealth of Nations” in which he actually discussed the innate caring for others that human beings have. And people also want recognition for having done that. And recognition is sort of, as he describes it, a separate currency, almost, that you can maximize.
RYSSDAL: This is a book on the power, really, of capitalism — if you think very broadly about what that means. I’m just wondering what you think about the timing of bringing this book to market at a point where capitalism — equally broadly defined — is under some siege here.
KINSLEY: Well, first of all, capitalism is going to outlast whatever problems we’re going through now, and these issues will still be there. Secondly, surely the problems that Bill and others are hoping might be addressed are not going to get better during a depression. They’re going to get worse. So, there will be more need for this.
RYSSDAL: Miochael Kinsley is an author. He’s a columnist for Time magazine. He’s a founder of Slate.com. And he is also, most recently, the editor of a book called, “Creative Capitalism.” Mike, thanks a lot for coming in.
KINSLEY: Thank you, Kai.
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