Amongst Development elites… it is not when you need two gats to go to sleep (shouts to Biggie).
It is when Bill Gates comes at you sideways by dissing the pinnacle of your academic prowess.
This week has been an interesting week for Bill Gates. He was ragged on by two top dollar social scientists: Dambisa Moyo and Daron Acemoglu (my academic crush who will one day be my thesis advisor. amen.) after having attacked their academic work… and to some extent their character.
Here is the video of Gates v. Moyo:
Here is me thinking… Moyo is doing the most with the title of her video:
The synopsis of the drama is basically (this is my loose translation) that Bill Gates says Dambisa Moyo doesn’t know what she is talking about in spite of her degrees and papers, her arguments are ill founded and over reaching, and that if she continues to right books she will single handedly bring World War 3 to fruition which will result in Armageddon and then the Rapture. Dambisa Moyo says Bill Gates is crazy to think that thousands of dollars she has spent on fancy letters behind her name are meaningless and that he CLEARLY must not know how to read academic work since he has mangled her words and misinterpreted her findings. If he has even ONE degree to his name, he would probably be much better equipped to approach her work with understanding… but since he dropped out of Harvard and all, she doesn’t expect much from him anyway (her words … basically… not mine). Plus she is actually African. Gates basically says that Acemoglu and co. are also wrong in their findings, they have mangled history (and with that the logic and teleology of cause and effect), they have left readers without a tangible framework and they don’t even know what they are talking about when it comes to Bill Gates (mastermind genius world dominator… duh! any other rendition is just wrong!).
Here is me thinking Gates is a heretic for even stepping to Acemoglu in the first place:
Obviously Moyo and Acemoglu took to the streets with this one, taking internet blows in the back alleys of youtube, twitter and, the gritty, foreignpolicy.com.
I read bits of Dead Aid, mostly for a class I took in grad school and I remember being largely underwhelmed by her stats but generally vibing with the general premise: aid creates dependency. I currently have Why Nations Fail but have been too busy to sit and truly read through it all (though what I have read is GOLD and Acemoglu should be in line for some sort of Peace Prize). I love Why Nations Fail (so far) because it says, and I agree, strong institutions make the difference and a strong nation is one that has more inclusive institutions. All of the caveats Bill points out seem to say well ‘Look at this country, they did it without inclusive institutions’.. and it seems Bill thinks institutions are binary and not scaled… more inclusive is operative when describing institutions. There is NO single country that has ABSOLUTELY inclusive institutions… that doesn’t even make sense. The point is that the closer you get to absolute inclusiveness, the better. Gates makes it sound so black and white, in a true free market capitalist kind of way. When will they ever learn <sigh. Rolls eyes.>. It’s not even like Acemoglu’s thesis and Gate’s championing of capitalism are mutually exclusive… they go hand in hand. And then Gates goes on to say things like “…but I am sure that Mexico is much better off with Slim’s contribution in running businesses well than it would be without him.”
Oh you are sure of that?
Because you took a sample survey of all Mexican citizens to inquire of this?
Because you… talked to Slim yourself? While you were reading the book, you say?
No… you are just going on a hunch? Nice. -_-
As you can see, I obviously go hard for Acemoglu (you have got to love a successful White man with a name that would never get him hired or elected in the US, I mean, I thought he was Nigerian) and I think his retaliation is spot on. Even if he does sound like his feelings are hurt. They probably are. It’s like the popular guy in junior high school who happens upon your article in the school paper and pushes you around the playground while reading some of your lines in a sing songy way in order to get the whole class to laugh at you. Kick rocks.
But here is the real clincher for me. Neither of those books are the kind of books you sort of just read haphazardly on a train ride. You have to sit, underline, synthesize, pontificate… you HAVE to pay attention. I feel as though Bill Gates just does NOT have that time. Spending billions of dollars is NO easy task. Saving the world by combatting disease, is not the kind of job that allows for these moments of reflection and academic analysis. I imagine that when Gates was reading these books, he was likely also… on the phone with Jay- Z, emailing the COO of Microsoft and trying to finish his Kale Salad while doing Yoga. That is how I imagine Bill Gates does everything… in life. And I believe he can do them all with 75- 80% accuracy. However, Why Nations Fail and Dead Aid, would require you to be at about 95% accuracy to offer any constructive critique. I think the only thing Bill Gates offers that kind of accuracy to is making money in his sleep. So in my mind, I have to wonder, why does Bill Gates’ opinion on substantive development research even matter? His job is to hire someone to rummage through all the academic discourse, have that person present him with options of what to fund, and then choose the projects that make him feel good about himself. That is all. (I am willing to be this person by the way… if you are out there reading and looking for someone to travel the world, look for projects and read through academic works, I am your girl. #unashamed #unabashed… sorry, Daron.)
Gates has become a Development Celebrity of late (by of late, I mean in the last 10 years…) with the Bill and Melinda Foundation. He was in Ghana just last month going around and getting excited about how his money is being used to heal the world.. and make it a better place… for you and for me— ok. I should probably not even be writing this blog post as I am certain he is paying my salary (since I know he regularly reads my posts between meals and exercise… please forgive my opinions and do not blast me on twitter. abeg!). I think it is awesome that he has committed so much time and effort into the cause of fighting global poverty. We are forever complaining about greed, and even if his fortune was amassed on the backs of factory workers in Beijing screwing on small parts while losing their vision one day at a time, he is intimately involved in development. After all, he is essentially singlehandedly responsible for growth in China and India. I just need him to place the following disclaimer on all of his critiques of academic work:
Disclaimer: Having never studied development in any intimate way and understanding that most of the knowledge I have is based on my personal experiences as a businessman, and not a social scientist, I submit the following opinions. I recognize the limitations, especially because I am a busy man and do not have time to intimately ponder many of the things I see and hear. I hope that by offering these opinions I can challenge those who do in fact dedicate their lives to the pursuit of this knowledge to fill in gaps in my understanding and to school me when my opinions seem baseless and rest solely on my laurels as a tech mogul and business icon.
I think this would likely save him from any further virtual quarrels. We are ever grateful for your billions, Bill. And I do not deny that his experience as a businessman and technical genius, qualify him to speak intelligibly on any matter he so chooses. However, when it comes to the nit and grit of the development foray and research, we just want you to focus on what you do (make that money!)… and let the professionals handle the rest.