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Face-off: Is Gates right on creative capitalism?

CNET News.com's Michael Kanellos and Declan McCullagh offer their thoughts on Bill Gates' call for businesses to help out more in the developing world.

Gates, Bono, Dell
Practicing what he preaches: Bill Gates joins U2 front man Bono and PC maven Michael Dell in Davos to pitch Vista-based PCs from Dell's namesake company. For every one of the computers purchased, Dell and Microsoft will make a contribution to The Global Fund to help in the fight against AIDS in Africa.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Thursday, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates told the corporate and governmental bigwigs in attendance that businesses should adopt a form of "creative capitalism" in which they seek to alleviate the problems in developing nations.

The notion is essentially this: coming up with drugs or water purification techniques for those nations may not be as profitable as catering to well-heeled retirees in Florida, but rewards will come nonetheless, in the form of recognition and, ultimately, a profit.

"Sometimes market forces fail to make an impact in developing countries not because there's no demand, or even because money is lacking, but because we don't spend enough time studying the needs and requirements of that market," Gates said.

Bah, says CNET News.com's chief political correspondent, Declan McCullagh. Encouraging companies to give to charities, enter smaller markets, or assign top employees to tackle intractable problems in far-flung regions--where those companies may not even have business--conflicts with the duties owed to shareholders. Besides, the shareholders can donate to charities on their own that they might prefer.

See "Gates misses the point on 'creative capitalism'."

Editor at Large Michael Kanellos, meanwhile, says corporations have broader powers. If participating in projects in Africa can help recruit or retain employees, or even open up new markets, it's a good idea.

See "On 'creative capitalism,' Gates gets it."

What do you think?