Bill Gates: I Don't Know Anything About The Tax Code, But I Know Raising Taxes On People Like Me Won't Fix It
Like a lot of wealthy men, Bill Gates believes he has special insight into areas outside his expertise. (That's why he's one of the biggest names pushing for corporate-style education reform.) Personally, I think he should stick to stealing other people's ideas and repackaging them, since it's already worked so well for him, but what do I know? Here he is on today's This Week with Christiane Amanpour:
AMANOUR: Bill Gates is one of the world's richest men...the chairman of Microsoft. Founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates philanthropic foundation. And a man now on a mission to convince some of the wealthiest nations and corporations to take care of the poor. That can be a tough sell these days, with economic crises rippling around the world. Gates traveled to Capitol Hill this week to make his case. And I spoke with him about the frustration gripping Washington and the nation.
AMANPOUR: Do you buy this notion that there's a sort of class warfare in this country right now?
GATES: No, fortunately, there hasn't been class warfare. Warfare is like where you're shooting at each other and there's...
AMANPOUR: I know. But...
GATES: -- there are barricades in the streets and...
AMANPOUR: Believe me, I know warfare.
No, Christiane, you know a certain kind of warfare. I think many people would tell you they consider certain kinds of increasing financial and social warfare (i.e. the siege of Gaza) that don't involve blowing things up.
GATES: Right (LAUGHTER). So how does it look?
AMANPOUR: The Buffett Rule, for instance, and all the other proposals the president is making are being called class warfare by his opposition. Do you agree with the Buffett Rule? Do you support that?
GATES: Well… (LAUGHTER)
AMANPOUR: Why is it funny?
GATES: Well, I just can't imagine the -- these millionaires and billionaires going down and - barricading the streets because they're going to have to pay four or five percent more in taxes. I mean it's going to be rough for them… There certainly is a case to be made that taxes should be more progressive. And, you know, that -- that's being debated by various people.
AMANPOUR: Do you support the Buffett Rule?
GATES: I'm not an expert on how we should do taxes. Clearly, you can't raise the taxes we need just by going after that 1 percent. Yes, I'm generally in favor of the idea that - that the rich should pay somewhat more. But to really deal with the deficit gap we're talking about, that alone just numerically is not going to be enough.
So Bill, you admit you don't know what you're talking about -- but insist on talking about it, anyway! You're wrong. Half of our deficit shortfall would be solved simply by letting the Bush tax cuts expire. And Bill, it's that 1% who are benefiting most from those cuts. Do the math!
AMANPOUR: You talk a lot about education. And, obviously, we know and we've seen the figures that the more educated, the more you have a degree and further degrees, the less problems you have with employment, etc.
But, a new book is out. And it says Bill Gates was a college dropout. Steve Jobs was. Jack Dorsey of Twitter, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook. Basically trying to say that it's not just about college, that entrepreneurs and innovators may need a different route for the kind of success that you've all brought and that, you know, America needs.
GATES: I think there are some people who will make their own route. And, you know, those people don't need some guy to make a route for them. I mean I don't think somebody is saying, Okay, you go up to Reed College, you drop out after six months, you -- you take various drugs for a while, you go to India. I don't think that's something we need some well-defined route for that, you know, one out of a million type person. For most people, being able to do mathematics, being able to read, have the jobs skills that would let you be a nurse, the job skills that would let you be a policeman, a teacher, you know, these are great things. And our capacity for doing that needs to expand.
AMANPOUR: At the G-20 summit next month, you're going to propose, for the richest countries in the world to do and keep their commitments and give more to some of the poorest countries. Isn't that a heavy lift in this era of austerity?
GATES: Well, if we really look at how the world's improved in the past few decades, it's very impressive how we've reduced poverty, reduced malnutrition, reduced the under five death rate. And we need to take lessons, the generosity, the innovation, and carry that forward despite the fact we have this economic crisis.
AMANPOUR: How can you convince people here in this country that this is actually something that should be done?
GATES: Well, certainly if you talk to people about providing AIDS drugs to people who would die otherwise or providing the malaria bed net that protects children, the U.S. voters are very generous about that. They're very excited that the U.S. has been the leader in both of those areas.
And they're pretty surprised when they find out that it's less than 1 percent of the federal budget going to aid very broadly, where these high impact health programs are just a portion of that.
And so, you know, if we had a referendum on bed nets or AIDS drugs, I'm sure we'd do quite well, as long as it doesn't get buried under these general terms of, okay, the size of the government or a broad term about foreign aid, which brings up a history of cold war foreign aid that was not that effective.
AMANPOUR: You were on Capitol Hill. What sort of a welcome did you get?
GATES: They do have a tough constraint. And so the question of should these monies that help the poorest, that enhance national security, should they be cut more than other things? Should they be cut equally? Or should they be preserved? That's, you know, something that they're having to think about. And, you know, I'm reminding them that every dollar makes a huge difference.
AMANPOUR: When President Obama says it's time to do nation-building here at home, what's your answer to that?
GATES: Well, I think, absolutely, the United States has to go back and look at what's going on with our education system, what's going on with our medical costs, what's going on with our infrastructure, our energy, our R&D. There's some very important things. Which is why 99 percent of the budget will - will focus domestically.
There's a question, as you do that, the U.S. lead role in helping the very poorest, get them vaccines and those things, should you do your nation-building by causing more of those people to die or should you maintain at least at the level you promised, that you went out and said that the Vaccine Fund, the Global Fund, we will put this money in are those promises going to be met? And that's really at risk right now.
AMANPOUR: There was an enormous outpouring when Steve Jobs died. I mean I don't think anybody has seen a businessman get so much reaction. How do you explain that?
GATES: Well, Steve Jobs did a fantastic job. When you think about why is the world better today, the Internet, the personal computer, the phone, the way you can deal with information is just so phenomenal.
AMANPOUR: You must have heard about the book that's come out. Walter Isaacson's written a book about Steve Jobs, with his authorization. And he said a few things about you, which I want to run by you. He had some pretty tough words.
He basically said that you were "unimaginative, had never invented anything and shamelessly ripped off other people's ideas." That's pretty tough stuff. What's your reaction to that?
GATES: Well, Steve and I worked together, you know, creation - creating the Mac. We had more people on it, did the key software for it. So over the course of, you know, the 30 years we worked together, you know, he said a lot of very nice things about me and he said a lot of tough things.
I mean he faced, several times at Apple, the fact that their products were so premium priced that they literally might not stay in the marketplace. So the fact that we were succeeding with high volume products, you know, including a range of prices, because of the way we worked with multiple companies, it's tough.
And so the fact that, you know, at various times, he felt beleaguered, he felt like he was -- he was the good guy and we were the bad guys, you know, very understandable. I, you know, respect Steve. We got to work together. We spurred each other on, even as competitors. None of that bothers me at all.
AMANPOUR: Mr. Gates, thank you very much indeed.