Saturday, May 4, 2013

From those to whom much is given, much is expected

Capitalism, and more specifically markets, is the best mechanism humans have invented to pool resources from where they are available and get them to where they are needed the most.  This is true of capital. This is true of raw materials. This is also true of goods and services. This is , alas, not true of talent.

Talent is a blessing given by God to some of us. It would be vain to consider that talent is something we have earned. Yes, we may have nurtured it; yes we may have developed it; yes we may have worked extremely hard on it. But no; "we didn't build it" (with full apologies to the GOP). It was given to us.

And from those to whom much is given; much is expected too. You would expect that mankind would devise mechanisms whereby the world's best talent works on the most pressing problems facing it.  But here, mankind's mechanism to channel resources seems to fail. For sure, there is a talent market that pools talent and sends them to who is ready to pay the highest value for it.  But not necessarily to address the pressing problems humanity faces.

The best talent in the world does not work on eradicating, or at least minimising,  poverty. It does not work on preventing wars from happening and preventing the countless from being decimated by war. It does not work on the great inequities around the world. It does not work on preventing the so many preventable deaths of children dying of diseases which are eminently treatable today. It does not work in the most complex management task of all - managing countries.  It does not work in the challenge of leaving the world a better place for our children - without a crippling debt burden, without a deteriorating environment, without the hopelessness of a better world that seems to afflict the young today.

We all know, where the best talent in the world goes to. But why are markets so unable to channel talent to where it is needed the most ? For the benefit of all mankind. For future generations. For making the world a better place.

If markets fail to do this job, we have to invent another mechanism that will.  

This lament is inspired by the speech made at Harvard in 2007, by William H Gates III. He is not a great speaker, but his thoughts and ideas are truly great. The title of this post is a quote from a letter written by his mother to Melinda Gates when they were married.