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Macdonald on Monday

For the last two decades I have been frustrated by Bill Gates' Microsoft business.

Until he came along most journalists of my generation wrote on typewriters and you never lost stories because they crashed.

But I have to admit that I rather like Mr Gates because as well as being one of the wealthiest men in the history of the world he firmly believes that governments should tax the rich.

He also believes that wealth is something you should use to good purpose rather than for the greater accumulation of wealth.

He has, apparently, an estimated wealth of $65 billion, is as rich as two Kenyas, three Trinidads and a dozen Montenegros but is now engaged in the process of ridding himself of all the money in the hope of extending the lives of others less fortunate than himself.

He, along with his wife, have already given away something like $28bn.

But given the success of his business, he is even richer now than he was when he started redistributing his wealth to the needy.

He has committed himself to leaving his kids about $10 million apiece, which seems a bit mean given his current wealth but he does have this admirable desire to use what he has to make the world a better place.

Stopping my personal computer eating stories might be an area he should consider investing in but I still admire him for deciding that sending my weekly column into the ether is less important a problem than curing polio across the globe.

"Money has no utility to me beyond a certain point. Its utility is entirely in building an organisation and getting the resources out to the poorest in the world," he said recently.

I like that.

I do not know if he has signed up for the annual meeting of the good and the great at The World Economic Forum in Davos in Switzerland at the end of this month where the future of the world is debated by a bunch of high flying politicians and financiers.

But you can bet that if he is there his commitment to helping the poor, and eradication of polio as a global disease, will mark him out as a unique character.

There will obviously be the usual quota of pop divas and film stars who turn up to express their concern about world poverty.

But the vast majority of the people attending will be more intent on getting the Western economy back on track so the investment bankers and hedge fund managers can get back and buy a private jet and a holiday home in Mustique which they will use once a week every year because they prefer making money to lying in the sun because they are basically rather sad.

I was flicking through the agenda for The World Economic Forum the other day - which probably qualifies me as pretty sad - when I came across an interesting concern that the most powerful people on the planet will be discussing.

In the wake of the financial meltdown of recent years, a crisis in Southern Europe and slowing growth even in China and India, it would appear that something else we should be worried about is obesity.

Now I accept that fat people are a growing problem, particularly when they are taking up too much space at the bar.

But it hardly strikes me as a major economic issue in these strained economic times.

You do not need global economic solutions to the problem that some people spend too much time eating junk food, taking no exercise and sitting in front of the television or sitting outside shawarma shops hooting their car horns because they are too lazy to go into a restaurant to buy food.

This is not an issue for the people who go to Davos.

They are the people who invest in the fast food outlets that help to create the problem.

But the bottom line is that obesity is a self-curing disease.

People who do not look after their health die young.

Poor back on agenda

The 100 richest people in the world earned enough last year to end extreme poverty suffered by the poorest on the planet four times over, according to a report by Oxfam.

Unfortunately very few of these people have the Bill Gates philosophy.

Ahead of this week's World Economic Forum the charity urged world leaders to tackle inequality.

Extreme wealth was economically inefficient, politically corrosive and socially divisive, the report said.

The global economic system required reform so that it worked in the interests of the whole of humanity. In its report entitled The Cost Of Inequality: How Wealth And Income Extremes Hurt Us All, the UK charity said that efforts to tackle poverty were being hindered by an explosion in extreme wealth where the richest one per cent of the world's population had increased its income by 60 per cent in the last 20 years, Oxfam said.

That is something we should be concerned about.

But it is not the kind of thing they will be debating at Davos.

Davos is ultimately about serving the needs of the wealthiest people on the planet.

These are the people who took us to the brink of economic meltdown a few years ago and who see poverty as a necessary evil to fuel the wealth of not only the few but the majority of rich people.

I have often wondered over the years who The World Economic Forum choose to hold its annual bashes at the beginning of the year in Davos.

Switzerland is not exactly the most temperate climate for economic discussions in January.

It may be fine for skiing but it is pretty cold.

It strikes me that they go to Davos because it is of out of the way and one of the most expensive places on the planet to get accommodation at this time of year.

Which probably explains why the only dissident voices heard there are from rich pop stars and Bill Gates.

- Arthur Macdonald



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