Bill Gates: praise for the wisdom of government research and development. (OnInnovation / CC BY-ND 2.0)

In a recent interview with The Atlantic, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates praised the U.S. government’s record in research and development and declared that the private sector alone cannot save the world from the ravages of climate change.

“There’s no fortune to be made,” Gates explained. “Even if you have a new energy source that costs the same as today’s and emits no CO2, it will be uncertain compared with what’s tried-and-true and already operating at unbelievable scale and has gotten through all the regulatory problems. … Without a substantial carbon tax, there’s no incentive for innovators or plant buyers to switch.”

Gates also praised the wisdom of government research and development:

When I first got into this I thought, How well does the Department of Energy spend its R&D budget? And I was worried: Gosh, if I’m going to be saying it should double its budget, if it turns out it’s not very well spent, how am I going to feel about that? But as I’ve really dug into it, the DARPA money is very well spent, and the basic-science money is very well spent. The government has these “Centers of Excellence.” They should have twice as many of those things, and those things should get about four times as much money as they do.

Yes, the government will be some-what inept—but the private sector is in general inept. How many companies do venture capitalists invest in that go poorly? By far most of them. And it’s just that every once in a while a Google or a Microsoft comes out, and some medium-scale successes too, and so the overall return is there, and so people keep giving them money.

“Since World War II,” Gates added, “U.S.-government R&D has defined the state of the art in almost every area.”

Indeed, Gates reminded readers that “the original Internet comes from the government, the original chip-foundry stuff comes from the government”:

[…] and even today there’s some government money taking on some of the more advanced things and making sure the universities have the knowledge base that maintains that lead. So I’d say the overall record for the United States on government R&D is very, very good.

Continue reading here.

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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