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Businesses The Almighty Buck

Bill Gates To Stanford Grads: Don't (Only) Focus On Profit 284

jfruh (300774) writes "The scene was a little surreal. Bill Gates, who became one of the world's richest men by ruthlessly making Microsoft one of the word's most profitable companies, was giving a commencement address at Stanford, the elite university at the heart of Silicon Valley whose graduates go on to the endless tech startups bubbling up looking for Facebook-style riches. But the theme of Gates's speech was that the pursuit of profit cannot solve the world's problems."
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Bill Gates To Stanford Grads: Don't (Only) Focus On Profit

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  • Water is wet (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 16, 2014 @08:18PM (#47250555)

    the pursuit of profit cannot solve the world's problems

    That's because it causes most of them.

  • by Karmashock ( 2415832 ) on Monday June 16, 2014 @08:20PM (#47250577)

    Cartoon lightening should hit gates in his weedy little head. What a hilarious hypocrite.

    Tell you what, Gates... after I hit 70 billion I'll stop making it all about the money too. What a giant joke.

    Yes, gates does a lot of very nice charity work around the world... and that's lovely. But he didn't just hop on a couch airplane and then do relief work in africa for years. The man amassed an insane fortune and then casually jet sets around the world making appearences for his charities. Don't get me wrong... he writes checks that clear. But that's his contribution to all these issues... writing checks. And that's very important... but to do that you have to have money. If you don't you can't do that.

    So... I'm a little confused about his message. Because if I judged him by his actions... the sensible thing would seem to be... make billions of dollars by any means and then retire to run various charities and tell people what a good person you've always been.

    I don't know... this charity kick that some of the super rich go off on seems like more of a donation to the "Everyone love me" fund. I frankly respect the anonymous donations more in most cases simply because you know they actually care more about the cause then they do about what people think of them.

  • Re:Water is wet (Score:1, Insightful)

    by rubycodez ( 864176 ) on Monday June 16, 2014 @08:21PM (#47250597)

    bullshit, most the dramatic increase in human life and health of the last 500 years has been driven by and is the result of profit-seeking. The only solutions to mankinds problems will be produced and distributed that way

  • by Narcocide ( 102829 ) on Monday June 16, 2014 @08:23PM (#47250605) Homepage

    Did you suddenly realize that no matter how many children you save from Malaria you will still go down in history as "part of the problem?"

  • Re:Water is wet (Score:5, Insightful)

    by blue trane ( 110704 ) on Monday June 16, 2014 @08:33PM (#47250713) Homepage Journal

    Kleinrock and others have explicitly said that economic gain was not a motivation for the beginnings of the internet. And Berners-Lee wasn't interested in profiting from the World Wide Web. How much did Mendel profit from his theory of inheritance? Why didn't Pasteur pursue profits instead of basic research? Were Watson and Crick thinking of money when they thought of the double helix structure of DNA?

    Consider also that the Human Genome Project outcompeted Ventner's for-profit attempt.

  • by flaming error ( 1041742 ) on Monday June 16, 2014 @08:35PM (#47250721) Journal

    Or maybe he started out with a ruthless bloodlust for destroying all competitors and slowly grew up. And retired and tried to do something useful.

    And figured out that his MSFT business approach was counter-productive as far as bettering the world goes.

    Hey, it could happen. Maybe.

  • Re:Water is wet (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 16, 2014 @08:47PM (#47250833)

    Yes, I work in imaging research, trying to bring about medical imaging progress, with hopefully useful results. I'm not at all motivated by profit. I just want enough money not to starve and enough funding to pay my students and equipment. In the end, in the best possible scenario, it's a zero-sum game.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 16, 2014 @08:55PM (#47250901)

    When I was young in the nineteen sixties, I listened to Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Jefferson Airplane, and all the other bullshit idealism. We were going to make a better world, eschewing wealth, war, and capitalism.

    Fact: 50 years later, my life is less than optimal, while Dylan, Baez, Pete Seeger, Airplane alumni, and others of their ilk all have had comfortable millionaire lives and not a worry in the world. If I had to do it over again, I would ignore all pop culture, save and invest every penny I had. By the time I was fifty years old, I would have been worth a a couple million, but I pissed it away on bullshit idealism.

    Don't be fooled by philosophy, love, idealism. In the end, it is only money that makes life worth living. Sure we can sing songs about the contrary, but I'd like to see those Dylanesque pied pipers, who sold us those lies, give away their millions and trade places with me.

  • by quietwalker ( 969769 ) <> on Monday June 16, 2014 @09:05PM (#47250965)

    Aside from the literal connotations, profit is potentially more valuable than charity to charitable work itself.

    Let's say you want to help decrease the spread of disease in africa. You can get the necessary training, go to africa, and along with thousands of others, actually DO that, and you'll have an obvious impact.

    Or, like the folks he's talking to, you could go to a prestigious college, get a fancy degree, and potentially land a job that can pay for 3 or 4 people to perform the duties of the charitable worker above, while still maintaining a very comfortable lifestyle. You could even end up higher in a profitable company, where you direct millions of dollars to aid programs just for tax breaks, if not altruism.

    So it's a problem to encourage new grads to focus on charity. They are at the peak of their earning potential, and no matter how you look at it, focusing on altruism is a quick way to retard their ability to make potentially world-changing decisions later, when their potential has been realized.

    The view most cultures have for this sort of work is very odd. I think Dan Pallotta spells it out in his TED talk about how we think about charities []. We often direct involvement and financial sacrifice as the only acceptable path to social gains.

  • Re:Also focus on (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NoNonAlphaCharsHere ( 2201864 ) on Monday June 16, 2014 @09:06PM (#47250975)
    You don't have to "destroy" them, just "cut off their air supply".
  • Re:Also focus on (Score:4, Insightful)

    by binarylarry ( 1338699 ) on Monday June 16, 2014 @09:35PM (#47251165)

    As well as hearing the lamentation of their women.

  • by RobinEggs ( 1453925 ) on Monday June 16, 2014 @09:53PM (#47251277)
    The process of earning your profit can easily counteract the effects of spending your profit on charity, however. The wealthy often realize this paradox when they begin "giving back". The Gates Foundation itself has been accused many times of investing in things that completely undermine its goals. This editorial from 2014 is just one example. []; I recall hearing similar claims about investments in totally different industries almost 10 years ago

    How you get your profit makes a big difference in what net accomplishments your money can achieve. If your earning provides great support to systems that keep poor countries unstable or work against universal improvements for humanity, but then you wish to spend your profits on humanist goals, then what was the point? I'd rather you'd just become a janitor instead of digging holes in human society and then desperately filling them back in, hoping you might create mountains in the process.
  • honest profit (Score:5, Insightful)

    by stenvar ( 2789879 ) on Monday June 16, 2014 @10:06PM (#47251367)

    The problem isn't with profit, it's with how you make it. Gates made it through monopolistic practices and dirty tricks, mostly in the first world, and mostly profiting from other people's innovations and ideas. In that case, "making a profit" is not useful. But if you actually make a good product that people want to buy, making a profit is a good thing: it indicates that your product satisfies people's needs better than someone else's.

    As for Gates, he is trying to salvage his reputation as much as he can.

  • Re:Water is wet (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 16, 2014 @10:10PM (#47251377)

    You're confusing "profit" with "money".

    St. Thomas's Abbey was almost certainly paid for by the tithes of working people. You have to have a pretty twisted view of the world to consider a peasant's meager wages to be "profit".

  • Re:Water is wet (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Immerman ( 2627577 ) on Monday June 16, 2014 @11:06PM (#47251681)

    If you work for money you have my sympathies, perhaps you should re-evaluate your assumptions.

    There is the option, especially prevalent within academia, of working for your pleasure. You still make money, and have to deal with financing, but it's not the point - if you weren't getting pay you'd make money elsewhere and then want to do the same work out of your own pocket as a hobby. Because the work is it's own reward.

    Once you have enough money to keep food in your belly and a roof over your head, increased income has very little impact on happiness, while the things you have to do to get that money can often be quite damaging to it. Make your choices carefully. Or at least consciously. Don't let yourself become a cogg in the machine whose life has been optimized to serve the economy.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 16, 2014 @11:30PM (#47251755)

    As people get older they experience death anxiety. People who spent their lives accepting death as inevitable and believing they had come to terms with it discover the reality of existential crisis once the reality of death begins to draw near.

    A very common reaction to this is a rapid shift of values. People who spent most of their lives seeking some form of hedonism start to want meaning in their lives instead. They want to make up for lost time, too.

    Lots of rich robber-barons became philanthropists near the end of their lives. Bill Gates is just another character in that same story.

    The next generation of young-ins will be just as greedy as the previous, despite these admonitions from their elders. That's just how it works.

  • Seriously? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ArchieBunker ( 132337 ) on Tuesday June 17, 2014 @12:47AM (#47251961) Homepage

    You gotta be shitting me. Apple is doing way worse things today than Bill Gates ever did in the 80s or 90s.

  • Re:honest profit (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 17, 2014 @02:33AM (#47252239)

    "The problem isn't with profit, it's with how you make it"

    This has been said over and over again and reality has shown corporations use their profit to negatively harm society.

  • Re:[need YMMV] (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lotana ( 842533 ) on Tuesday June 17, 2014 @03:16AM (#47252355)

    Have a look at the post you replied to:

    Once you have enough money to keep food in your belly and a roof over your head, increased income has very little impact on happiness, while the things you have to do to get that money can often be quite damaging to it.

    Please point to the part where you came up with "lovey dovey feel good philosophy doesn't pay the bills" from? That is an absolutely true statement. Once you have enough money to cover your needs (Needs depend very heavily on your expectations and accepted standard of living), there is no improvement to your quality of life. You do not require to be rich to have financial security to do what you love.

    You think widget makers in the widget factory want to build widgets in their off time?


    My father is a cabinet maker. He spends all his working hours working on the factory floor and he is not rich in any sense of a word. However at home he has a shed with a work bench, wood and a hell of a lot of tools. After he comes home he makes stuff just for the pleasure of it. All our friends got custom chairs/tables/drawers/bookshelves that he built out of his own time and money just for fun and a thank you.

    My grandfather was a plumber. For his whole life if any of his friends had issues in their home he would fix it up for free. I can assure you, he wasn't rich either.

    There is so much more to life than money! Do you think that every single volunteer out there is rich?

  • surprised? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tom ( 822 ) on Tuesday June 17, 2014 @04:07AM (#47252485) Homepage Journal

    Anyone surprised?

    Gates has been on a campaign to whitewash his image for many years now. He probably realized that he has more money than he can ever spend in his lifetime, even if he sleeps on a bed of dollar bills ever day - and burns it in the morning.

    But one day he also realized that he'll go down in history as a sleazebag. So he did what all the robber barons have done before him, he turned to philantropy and creating a nice new image of himself, hoping that ten years from now people will remember that part of his life and forget the other.

    And it just might work, because humans in general are stupid. Too few realize that since he made most of his fortune extracting economic rent, the damage he has done to society is larger than the money he has, so no matter what he does, if he wants to become a net positive for the human race, he has to do a lot more than just give away his wealth.

  • Re:[need YMMV] (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lotana ( 842533 ) on Tuesday June 17, 2014 @04:31AM (#47252559)

    Perhaps my examples are not the best. Plumbers and cabinet makers are professions that pay well eventually. The point I was trying to make that people do indeed spend their free time doing thing what they do for a job.

    Stating that craftsman do not work for money (and its benefits) is ridiculous.

    This is the part that I just don't understand where both you and the grandparent post got from.This whole thread is about working for pleasure ONCE the income from that activity covers the cost of living. Again the quote from the original post is: "Once you have enough money to keep food in your belly and a roof over your head". Quote from the post above that is: "Yes, I work in imaging research, trying to bring about medical imaging progress, with hopefully useful results. I'm not at all motivated by profit. I just want enough money not to starve and enough funding to pay my students and equipment." (Emphasis mine).

    No one that I can see has stated in this thread that anyone works for absolute free. We do not dispute that! Your bills needs to be covered first. But beyond covering your needs, profit need not be the motivation!

    For example: You have a choice to stay doing a job you love, but only covers your expenses or do what you don't like, but earn triple the amount that you need. In BOTH cases you are NOT working for free! In BOTH cases your living expenses are covered.

    What this thread is about is that choosing the former is better for your quality of life than the latter. This is the interesting and complex part that is being discussed. Not simplified "Be a hippy to be happy!" nonsense that you are reading into the discussion.

  • Re:Water is wet (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Immerman ( 2627577 ) on Tuesday June 17, 2014 @11:04AM (#47254411)

    The problem is that very *very* many people believe that having more money will make them happier - it's a belief that our culture instills in many subtle ways the entire time you're growing up, and gets reinforced by virtually every piece of advertising we see - a media form largely dedicated to generating a previously non-existent or negligible desire, with the implicit promise that sating that desire by giving Company X your money for their product/service will make you happier.

    And it's completely false, as evidenced by a huge amount of psychological research around the world. Once you have shelter and plenty of food it doesn't actually have much impact on happiness whether you're eating beans and rice in a comfortable hovel or caviar in a mansion - other factors that have very little to do with money become the dominant factors in your happiness: things like close friendships, job satisfaction, and stress levels. All things that an unpleasant job can have serious negative impacts on. Income becomes relevant to happiness only insofar as your income compares to your peers - so long as you're not considerably less wealthy than your friends your income will have negligible impact on your happiness.

    The evidences shows that we're virtually all really bad about judging beforehand what will make us happy, and rarely question our underlying assumptions. Meanwhile our culture is saturated with indoctrinating influences that tell a story soundly disproven by science. In such an environment I believe we have an ethical duty to point out the lies we're being told about ourselves, and encourage people to ask themselves what really matters in their life: what do you already do, today, that makes you happy, and why are you neglecting that in order to make more money to buy things that almost certainly won't make you the slightest bit happier after the initial rush of acquisition has passed?

    If even one person reads these posts and decides they should spend a little more time with their friends and family appreciating the simple joys in life, instead of working overtime at a job they dislike so they can buy a nicer car/bigger house/newer TV/etc, then the total amount of happiness in the world is increased. And I for one think that's a worthy cause to fight for.

"How many teamsters does it take to screw in a light bulb?" "FIFTEEN!! YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT?"