Bill Gates on Government vs Private R&D

In a sweeping interview about climate change and how we should approach the problem from an investment standpoint, Bill Gates tells the Atlantic that “we need an energy miracle.” That’s not as pessimistic as it sounds when you consider the actual miracles that science has been producing throughout history.

Here’s his take on the importance of federally-funded energy / climate R&D, which he says is about $6 billion a year and should triple to $18 billion if we’re serious about saving the planet:

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.


Bill Gates’s bonfides when it comes to putting his money where his mouth is and tackling hard problems cannot be questioned. The guy has read the books, talked to the experts and walked the walk since stepping away from Microsoft 15 years ago. I recommend reading the whole interview.


‘We Need an Energy Miracle’ (The Atlantic)

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