Bill Gates: economics fit for a tech future

Basic economics always taught us that ‘supply and demand’ was a central feature of understanding a market. However, Bill Gates wrote in his blogrecently that “supply and demand is over” and he argued that it simply doesn’t apply to today’s economy. He also stated that politicians aren’t paying enough attention to this economic shift.

Why does he make this claim?

His reasoning is based on the fact that companies are no longer only making money by selling tangible products. Companies that supply software being one example. To develop new software, Gates points out, all of the cost is upfront, whereas a traditional manufacturer has to pay for parts and labour. When Microsoft launches a new version of a software programme, it can be copied, sold, and downloaded indefinitely for the relatively minimal costs of distribution and server space.

Gates claims that more large companies are operating without tangible products and says that digital products, which are a so-called “intangible investment,” carry new risks for businesses and investors and that this is not being accounted for in economic thinking, which still relies too much on an old model.

Capitalism without Capital

In his book “Capitalism without Capital” Gates presents the idea that developing software is a “sunk cost” because developers can’t recoup their losses the way other companies might. If you manufacture tangible products and go bust, you can sell off machinery, but a tech company doesn’t have any such assets to sell.

Gates also points out, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the sum of all goods and services sold in a country that is often used as a benchmark for an economy’s well-being doesn’t factor in the investment in intangible elements needed to make a product marketable, such as research and development or market research. He also suggests that didn’t matter two decades ago, but now it does because tech companies make up a bigger slice of a country’s GDP these days. And governments haven’t caught up with this fact.

Gates doesn’t offer a new economic model, but as he says: “The idea today that anyone would need to be pitched on why software is a legitimate investment seems unimaginable, but a lot has changed since the 1980s. It’s time the way we think about the economy does, too.”

 

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