Profit-motivated capitalism, on the other hand, has done wonders for poor workers. Self-interested capitalist factory owners buy machines that increase production, and thus profits. Capitalists search for technological breakthroughs that make it possible to get more output for the same amount of input. Working with more machinery and better technology, workers produce more output per hour. In a competitive labor market, the demand for these more productive workers increases, driving up their wages. The steady increase in wages for unskilled labor lifts the workers out of poverty.
The number of poor people who can't afford food for their children is a lot smaller than it used to be -- thanks to capitalism. Capitalism didn't create malnutrition, it reduced it. The globalization of capitalism from 1950 to the present has increased annual average income in the world to $7,000 from $2,000. Contrary to popular legend, poor countries grew at about the same rate as the rich ones. This growth gave us the greatest mass exit from poverty in world history.
The parts of the world that are still poor are suffering from too little capitalism. Foreign direct investment in Africa today, although rising, amounts to only 1% of global flows. That's because the environment for private business in Africa is still hostile. There are some industry and country success stories in Africa, but not enough.
Mr. Gates also announced his foundation is starting "a partnership that gives African farmers access to the premium coffee market, with the goal of doubling their income from their coffee crops." This is fine as a modest endeavor to help a few Rwandan and Kenyan coffee farmers, but it's hardly going to remake capitalism. The main obstacles to exports in poor countries are domestic ones like corruption and political strife, not lack of interest from rich-country buyers for premium coffee.
Moreover, how do philanthropists choose just which product is going to be the growth engine of a country? Much research suggests that "picking winners" through government industrial policy hasn't worked. Winners are too unpredictable to be discovered by government bureaucrats, much less by outside philanthropists. Why did Egypt capture 94% of Italy's import market for bathroom ceramics? Why did India, an economy with scarce skilled labor, become a giant in skill-intensive IT and outsourcing? Why did Kenya capture 39% of the European market in cut flowers? Why did tiny Lesotho become a major textile exporter to the U.S.? Why did the Philippines take over 72% of the world market in electronic integrated circuits? Because for-profit capitalists embarked on a decentralized search for success.
Sure, let those who have become rich under capitalism try to do good things for those who are still poor, as Mr. Gates has admirably chosen to do. But a New-Age blend of market incentives and feel-good recognition will not end poverty. History has shown that profit-motivated capitalism is still the best hope for the poor.
Points worth reemphasizing:
The main obstacles to exports in poor countries are domestic ones like corruption and political strife.Help and encourage institutional reform consistent with local culture and then see what happens.
Much research suggests that "picking winners" through government industrial policy hasn't worked. Winners are too unpredictable to be discovered by government bureaucrats, much less by outside philanthropists.
...for-profit capitalists embarked on a decentralized search for success.
History has shown that profit-motivated capitalism is still the best hope for the poor.