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Gates answers Nader's challenge

Microsoft's chief responds to the consumer activist's challenge to the world's richest man, but sidesteps an invitation to convene a conference.

Microsoft chief executive Bill Gates has responded to consumer activist Ralph Nader's challenge to the world's richest man, but sidestepped Nader's invitation to convene a conference on wealth disparity.

As reported, Nader sent a letter to

Ralph Nader
Ralph Nader. AP
Gates last month challenging the CEO--whose stock holdings total more than $50 billion, at least on paper--to join financier Warren Buffett in leading a "conference of billionaires" in addressing wealth disparities and how to resolve them.

"Though we may disagree on a number of issues about Microsoft...it appears that we have something in common: an interest in philanthropy," Gates wrote in a letter dated yesterday.

"I do encourage everyone I know to participate in philanthropy," the letter continued. "However, philanthropy is very personal. I think people should give because they want to give, and not because of pressure from a conference."

He added "it hasn't been much of a secret" that he intends to give away the bulk of his wealth during his lifetime. For now, however, he said his "primary responsibility at this time is to continue to guide Microsoft."

Nader, a regular critic of the software giant, responded in a statement: "My letter was not addressed to his philanthropy. It requested that he and Buffett convene a conference of billionaires on the structural issues of wealth inequality in our country in order to explore, without any prejudgment, the best experiences and ideas for addressing this problem."

He noted that "Ted Turner, who has long held ideas on the leadership responsibilities of billionaires, and Sol Price, founder of the Price Clubs and thinker about these subjects, have told me that this is a meritorious request. I hope Gates will focus on the specific invitation to convene this conference."

In his earlier letter to Gates, Nader said: "All this wealth makes you the world's No. 1 working rich person....Apart from the more than medieval size gap between your wealth and [that of other working people], it is more than a little worrisome that tens of millions of Americans have so little net property worth, some after a lifetime of labor."

Microsoft confirmed that Gates had sent the letter to Nader but declined further comment.