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Gates seeks 'creative capitalism'

In a World Economic Forum speech, Bill Gates discusses capitalism's shortcomings and outline what he sees as a needed shift in thinking on the part of businesses.

UPDATE: The actual speech is available for viewing.

Few people have benefited more from capitalism than Bill Gates.

But these days, Microsoft's chairman is seeing first-hand the failures of the market system and is now calling on businesses to take greater responsibility for those left out in the cold by the free market. Poll

Capitalist critique
Is Bill Gates right about the shortcomings of the free market--and what needs to be done?

Yes, businesses need to do more to help the less fortunate.
No, businesses should stick to making products and making money.

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In a speech Thursday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Gates is calling on companies to think more broadly about how their products can benefit society.

Much of Gates' work at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has centered on two particular shortcomings of capitalism--solving health problems that affect only the poor and improving educational systems.

In his speech, Gates calls on businesses to launch "creative capitalism" projects of their own.

"I definitely see, once I'm full time at the foundation, reaching out to various industries--going to cell phone companies, banks and more pharma companies--and talking about how...they can do these things," Gates told The Wall Street Journal in an interview before his speech.

I'm interested to see the reaction to Gates' speech. It is hard to argue that Gates is not practicing what he preaches. In addition to using the bulk of his fortune to address capitalism's shortcomings, Gates is shifting his work toward philanthropy. In July, Gates will step down from full-time work at Microsoft and shift his focus to the foundation.

But it is also true that it took Gates a long time to get to this place--a fact also pointed out in the Journal article. In recent years, the company has launched a broad array of programs to bring its technology to the billions that have been left out of the PC revolution. Some have argued, though, that it was the threats of Linux and piracy, not altruism, that initially prompted Microsoft to expand its mind.

And even as Gates calls on businesses to start addressing capitalism's shortfalls, his company continues to be criticized for abusing its position in the marketplace at the expense of rivals.

Take a look at the Journal's video interview with Gates and sound off on what you think about Gates' notion of "creative capitalism." It's also worth checking out the Journal article, which is filled with interesting details and a look at what's on Gates' bookshelf.