Trending: Bill Gates outlines 3 steps US government needs to take ‘to save lives and get the country back to work’
Bill Gates, proving he’s Bill Gates, in a video on Reddit on Monday. (Reddit screen grab)

Bill Gates is perfectly happy as a billionaire, but he admitted again Monday that he believes he should have to pay more in taxes. The topic came up in a Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA), in which the Microsoft co-founder was quizzed on everything from education and health care to climate change and what he’s watching on Netflix.

RELATED: GeekWire interview: Catching up with Bill Gates

Gates spent an hour on the site — his seventh AMA — providing answers to a handful of the thousands of questions which were submitted. Before he started typing under his thisisbillgates handle, he invited people to check in on what he’s been up to — “besides waiting in line for hamburgers.”

The Q&A session comes on the heels of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s 11th Annual Letter, released earlier this month.

A user named DanielAyon asked Gates, “Do you think being a billionaire has made you a happier person than if you were just a middle class person?” Gates responded, “Yes,” adding that he doesn’t have to think about health costs or college costs. “Being free from worry about financial things is a real blessing. Of course you don’t need a billion to get to that point. We do need to reduce the cost growth in these areas so they are accessible to everyone.”

But Gates also repeated what he said alongside his wife in a Feb. 12 appearance on late-night TV, telling Redditors that richer people could pay a higher share of taxes in the U.S., especially in capital gains and estate taxes. “Yes I have paid $10B but I should have had to pay more on my capital gains,” Gates said at one point.

Read through more of the questions and answers for a better view of what Reddit users and Gates were interested in talking about:


What do you think you, personally, should be paying in taxes each year? I think our system can be a lot more progressive (that is richer people paying a higher share).

A key element is making capital gains taxation more like ordinary income (some have suggested making them the same) and having an estate tax more like we had in the past (55% above $3.5M).

European countries collect a lot more taxes but through consumption taxes but those are not progressive.

If people want the government to do more it needs to be funded and I see us needing to improve our education and health services.

So yes I have paid $10B but I should have had to pay more on my capital gains.

Hi Bill, what do you think about Rutger Bregman’s recent comments at Davos? Is it even possible for governments to compel billionaires to pay their fair share of taxes, even if they wanted to? As far as I know most billionaires (and other people) comply with tax laws. There should be more transparency so it is clear who owns what and how loopholes are reducing tax collection. Countries need to work with each other on this.

It is pretty amazing how few countries have estate taxes — even China doesn’t have one.

Health care

Is there something that is incredibly important in your opinion that hasn’t garnered as much interest generally as it should have? (this can be financial, economical, humanitarian, political etc). In the US I would say getting bipartisan consensus on how to reduce health care costs is a critical issue that doesn’t get enough focus. It does require looking at the numbers and studying what other countries do well.

What would you still like to achieve that you haven’t? The goal of the Foundation is that all kids grow up healthy — no matter where they are born. That means getting rid of malaria and many of the other diseases that affect poor countries. It should be achievable in my lifetime.

What do you think can be done to combat the anti-vax movements? Our Foundation does a lot of work to get vaccines to all the children in the world and there has been great progress. It is surprising to see how in the richer countries the consensus that kids should be protected has been lost. Unfortunately this will mean some measles or pertussis deaths. Hopefully that will help get over the negative stories that circulate. Vaccines have saved more lives than any other tool. Our Foundation is working on vaccines for Malaria, HIV and TB which will make a huge difference.

I work in health-care in South Africa and I just want to say thank you for the work that your foundation has been doing for HIV research here. Your willingness to help those who have less than you is something that I truly admire and aspire to. My question is how do I feel like I’m doing enough? With all the pain and suffering that I see everyday, it’s hard to feel like I am actually making a difference in the grand scheme of things. How do you deal with feeling like it’s a never ending struggle to actually make a difference and help people? Your point is a great one. As soon as you get engaged in solving problems you have to face how tough things are. You need to focus on how much you can improve things and feel good about that. We need more people to visit Africa to see the progress but also to see how much needs to be done. Nothing is as good as meeting people who have to live with malaria or HIV or see their children die.

People like yourself who work on the front lines deserve immense credit. Over time the deaths and suffering will go down but I am sure some days that is hard to see.

What’s a piece of technology that’s theoretical now that you wish you could make possible immediately? I am fascinated by how hard it has been to teach computers to actually read so they understand the material. An example would be reading a text book and passing a test. This question of knowledge representation is a fascinating one that Microsoft and lots of others are working on.

However if I had one wish to make a new technology it would be a solution to malnutrition. Almost half the kids in poor countries grow up without their body or brain developing fully so they miss most of their potential.

Second would be an HIV vaccine.

What’s the most encouraging bit of progress your foundation has funded to date? Our biggest achievement is working with partners (including rich government aid groups like USAID and DFID) to make sure all the children in the world get vaccines. This is a big part of the reason that deaths of children under 5 has dropped from over 10M when we started to less than 6M now. GAVI is the name of the group that was created – all the donors to GAVI deserve huge thanks (mostly from the voters in the countries who gave).

Climate change

What do you think the greatest threat to humanity is at this moment? There are some things that aren’t likely but we should worry about — nuclear bombs and bioterrorism (from nation states or terrorism), or a big pandemic. This is the 100th anniversary of the Spanish flu and if it came back the amount of travel would make it spread faster than it did last time.

Once you get past those threats then the biggest question is global cooperation to avoid climate change and reduce the risk of war. It is disconcerting to see a rise of countries turning inwards and not investing in alliances which have helped us avoid big wars since World War 2.

Climate change is a real test of how we can work together globally since it is a complex problem where major changes need to be done well in advance of the big harms.

You spend a great deal of time furthering your education, which I love. In your opinion, do you think that humanity can self-correct this climate change crisis?  Yes but I am worried that people think it is easy to do — “just buy renewables and drive electric cars in rich countries.” These are good things but they won’t stop the temperature from continuing to rise.

Unfortunately the sources of emissions are very broad and even in the case of electricity you have to cover the times when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine and electricity storage (batteries) are not likely to be cheap enough to cover this. My friend Vaclav Smil gives the example of Tokyo’s electricity needs when the renewable sources are not available for a number of days.

It is surprising there hasn’t been more discussion about the innovations required across all the sources including agriculture and industrial materials like steel and cement.

A good question to ask an expert is — what year is it likely that the temperature rise will stop?

Unfortunately the sources of emissions are very broad and even in the case of electricity you have to cover the times when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine and electricity storage (batteries) are not likely to be cheap enough to cover this. My friend Vaclav Smil gives the example of Tokyo’s electricity needs when the renewable sources are not available for a number of days.

Education / work

Since online courses are on the rise, What is your outlook on the Future of Education? Online is a great thing to compliment what teachers do. If a student is highly motivated then you can do a lot of the learning on line. The old approach to homework which was paper based can be replaced by online. There are some great online courses. However so far that material hasn’t helped reduce drop out rates from high school or college by engaging students in a better way. Our Foundation funds a lot of new work in this area so I am hopeful that it will make a difference.

Universal basic income. Could it work? Should it be the way forward? If not how do we adapt to the changing role of automation and work? When the world gets hyper-productive then work will be less important and people will have to decide what is important and what young people should do to have a sense of purpose.

However we are a long ways away from that world of excess. We still need people to work to produce the goods and services of society. We are not rich enough to give up work incentives.

People can do the math on UBI and figure out what the costs would be. I think we still need to focus benefits on those in need — those who can’t work or who need retraining. Admittedly this means identifying those people rather than just writing checks to everyone and government does this imperfectly.

Lighter side

Do you think you could jump that chair 20 years later? I would have to pick a somewhat shorter chair. I used to jump in and out of a plastic garbage can but I know I can’t do that anymore.

What’s your favorite prime number? 2.

When was the last time you sat in front of a computer and wrote code? I actually do use tabs. It is easy to convert tabs to spaces and vice-versa so we shouldn’t waste too much time on this issue.

I have not written code in a shipping product for a long time but I do write enough code to understand the new tools like Typescript or Github (shameless Microsoft plugs).

What have you been watching on Netflix and/or TV right now? Melinda and I watch things like Silicon Valley, This is Us, A Million Little Things. I watched The Americans with my son (too violent for Melinda). I watched Narcos by myself. Billions, Lie to Me, Friday Night Lights, American Vandal, Black Mirror.

It’s well known you are an avid reader — what are a few books that come to your mind when asked to recommend reading materials for anyone that can have a true impact on their life — either professionally or personally? I read a lot of non-fiction. There are so many great book. I do reviews on I am reading Hacking Darwin now — about gene editing getting very popular and what policies should control the usage.

I love books that explain things like Smil’s Energy and Civilization or all of Pinker’s books.

Factfulness by the Roslings is very readable — a great place to start to get a framework for the progress of humanity.

Bill Gates tennis
Bill Gates returns a shot during the Match for Africa in Seattle in April 2017. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

What are your hobbies? Nothing work related. I play tennis and bridge. Tennis is good exercise. Bridge is a great game but not as popular with young people as it used to be, I read a lot but I am not sure that is a hobby.

The internet is fascinated by seeing you do “normal” things, like wait in line for a burger. But whats the most “treat yo self” rich guy thing that you do? (please give me a tiny glimpse of what its like to be rich just for a second). I have a nice house. It includes a trampoline room which seems kind of over the top but my kids love using it to work off their excess energy. I am not sure how guilty I should feel about being in a great house.

The other thing is that I sometimes use a private jet. It does help me do my foundation work but again it is a very privileged thing to have.

Are you happy? Yes! When I was in my 30’s I didn’t think people in their 60s were very smart or had much fun. Now I have had a counter-revelation.

Ask me in 20 years and I will tell you how smart 80 year olds are.

Like what you're reading? Subscribe to GeekWire's free newsletters to catch every headline


Job Listings on GeekWork

Executive AssistantRad Power Bikes
Find more jobs on GeekWork. Employers, post a job here.