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Gates: Tech can save the economy

Microsoft's chairman tells a German newspaper that the best medicine to stave off a worldwide economic crisis is a good dose of new tech.

As investors around the globe view the sputtering U.S. economy with fear and trembling, at least one maven of the market economy sees a reason for hope: Bill Gates.

Gates on tablet PC
At the Government Leaders Forum in Berlin, a student has a close encounter with Bill Gates and a tablet PC. Microsoft

Stopping in Berlin on his way to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where he's expected to speak Thursday about the ways a more "creative capitalism" could benefit society's needier members, Microsoft's chairman told the German newspaper Bild that the best medicine to stave off a worldwide economic crisis is a good dose of new tech.

"I am an optimist. The U.S. economy could remain strong in the next few years because technological progress will urge it forward," Gates said. (Bild, of course, put his words into German.) He put current fears into the context of recent history--a U.S. economy that he said has been strong for the last 10 to 15 years. That statement glosses over the bursting of a certain dot-com bubble a few years back, mind you; no telling if that's Gates' omission, or an editorial one.

Of course, he's always been notoriously upbeat about the coming economic and societal benefits of technology. An op-ed piece by Gates in Thursday's Wall Street Journal reads like the stump speech he's given countless times over the last decade or more: "Together, hardware and software will be the catalyst for advances during the next 10 years that will far exceed the changes of the last 30 years."

But that's his role: As he told Bild, "I'm no stock expert--I'm a software person." Asked if he knows how much money he personally might have lost as markets have tumbled over the last few days, he again took the long view. "I look at Microsoft's stock performance every couple of weeks. The important thing is that in the past it's gone up more than it's gone down."

Gates was in Berlin for the Government Leaders Forum, at which he recommitted Microsoft to its Partners in Learning program, which provides software and training to educational efforts around the world.