Bill Gates schools Michael Shermer on economics

Jared Cohen, Dave Morin, John Cusack, Dean Kamen, Bill Gates, Arianna Huffington, Michael Shermer. Photo by John Brockman

Lately, it seems like I can’t get away from wacky libertarian politics. Hell, I don’t think I realized until now just how wacky the hard-core libertarians are and now am considering putting them up there with creationists.

Which is not to say that all libertarians are crazy. I have some libertarian friends who are active in the skeptical community and though we disagree on this one issue, they seem fairly rational most of the time.

Not like this guy who seemed so rational back when when he was making videos debunking moon landing deniers:

Then of course there’s Michael Shermer, a skeptic I respect a great deal but whom I think is very irrational when it comes to his libertarian position. That’s why I really enjoyed reading about his dinner discussion with Bill Gates, where Gates explains the importance of government intervention in the marketplace:

I asked Gates “Isn’t it a myth that some companies are ‘too big to fail’? What would have happened if the government just let AIG and the others collapse.” Gates’ answer: “Apocalypse.” He then expanded on that, explaining that after talking to his “good friend Warren” (Buffet), he came to the conclusion that the consequences down the line of not bailing out these giant banks would have left the entire world economy in tatters.

. . .

This led me to ask Gates this: “If the market is so good at determining jobs and wages and prices, why not let the market determine the price of money? Why do we need the Fed?” Gates responded: “You sound like Ron Paul! We need the Fed to steer the economy away from extremes of inflation and deflation.” He then schooled us with a mini-lecture on the history of economics (again, probably gleaned from Timothy Taylor’s marvelous course for the Teaching Company on the economy history of the United States) to demonstrate what happens when fluctuations in the price of money (interest rates, etc) swing too wildly. I believe that was the last question I asked Gates for the evening! What do I know? I run a tiny nonprofit science education organization with six employees. I’m just hoping to be able to cover my daughter’s college tuition next year. Gates is the world’s richest man who founded a giant multi-national corporation and heads a powerful nonprofit organization that is trying to save the third world. He surely understands economics and business and finance better than I do, right? I sure hope so!

Yes Michael, it’s safe to say that Bill Gates and his friend Warren Buffet DO understand economics and finance better than you do. Their expertise in these fields is even demonstrable. Just compare bank accounts.

I love Shermer but the moment economics comes up he suddenly turns into a nonsensical crank. It’s good to hear that even the richest men in the world understand the importance of government involvement in market affairs. I hope this has a big impact on Shermer’s economic views…but does it make me a cynical person that I doubt it?

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2 Responses to Bill Gates schools Michael Shermer on economics

  1. smokeysizzlebar says:

    I think you’re being a little hard on libertarians. There’s all kinds, as I’m sure you know — strict Randians; conspiracy/vigilante pig-farmer types and inoffensive boring ones who talk your ear off about easements given half a chance.

    The skeptic movement suffers from a complete lack of political diversity, I would argue. Are issues TRULY being examined in a skeptical light and from multiple points of inquiry if we leave skepticism strictly in the hands of lefties?

    Not a chance in hell.

    Sure, by expanding the political diversity of skepticism you’ll get several faux-skeptics who clumsily miss the point of being a skeptic e.g. the hapless twit who thinks he’s being skeptical while promoting anti-vaxx drivel. Or climate-change denialists thinking they’re putting on a skeptic cap by arguing fruitlessly against the consensus opinion of the world’s most reputable scientists.

    But I don’t think skepticism belongs strictly to hard-lefties like PZ Myers, et al. There is room for different ideological perspectives. Think back to when the Maher anti-vax nonsense became newsworthy; one of the few skeptics taking Maher to task at the time was Orac at Respectful Insolence. Nearly everyone else — including PZ — seemed asleep at the wheel until Orac’s endless assaults on Maher made them realize how lame it was to remain quiet in that discussion.

    I can only presume these guys sat out because they held Maher’s anti-conservative humor in such high regard. So much that they were willing to give him a free pass on an issue that he was taking a completely idiotic and arrogant stance on.

    Nice blind spots, guys.

    • mjr256 says:

      Maybe I am being a little too hard on libertarians. I’ve just lately been inundated with the kinds represented in the video above and have felt like I needed to vent a little about it.

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