Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. (New York Times Photo / Mike Cohen)

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates sat down for a candid and wide-ranging fireside chat Wednesday as part of the New York Times DealBook conference. The conversation jumped from one hot-button issue to the next, revealing the billionaire philanthropist’s perspective on everything from the 2020 presidential race to his tech peers’ proclivity for space exploration.

Gates sat down with New York Times columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin to discuss his work at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, growing political animosity toward billionaires, and more. The conversation also touched on a recent New York Times report on Gates’ meetings with the late convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

Gates said he regretted meeting with Epstein and only did so because he thought it would lead to more funding for his philanthropic work on public health. He was cautiously supportive of proposals to raise taxes on the wealthy but diverged from presidential candidates like Sen. Elizabeth Warren on what shape those changes should take. Gates also provided a glimpse into how Microsoft’s antitrust battle with federal regulators in the late 90s impacted the company.

Watch the interview below and continue reading for highlights from Gates’ fireside chat.

On Microsoft’s antitrust case

“There’s no doubt that the antitrust lawsuit was bad for Microsoft. If we would’ve been more focused on creating the phone operating system, instead of using Android today you would be using Windows Mobile, if it hadn’t been for the antitrust case. We were so close. I was just too distracted. I screwed that up because of the distraction.”

On Sen. Elizabeth Warren and the 2020 presidential race

“I’m not sure how open-minded she is or that she’d even be willing to sit down with somebody who has large amounts of money.”

“Whoever I decide would have the more professional approach, in the current situation, probably is the thing that I will weigh the most. I hope the more professional candidate is an electable candidate.”

On raising taxes for the ultra-wealthy

“By treating capital income the same as labor income, that goes a very long distance. I’m all for super progressive tax systems. You do need to couple these things with more transparency.”

“I’ve paid over $10 billion in taxes. I’ve paid more than anyone in taxes. If I had had to pay $20 billion, it’s fine. But when you say I should pay $100 billion, then I’m starting to do a little math about what I have leftover. Sorry, I’m just kidding.”

On meeting with Jeffrey Epstein

“In that case, I made a mistake in judgment. I thought those discussions would lead literally to billions of dollars going to global health. Turns out that was a bad judgment. That was a mirage. None of that money ever appeared and I gave him some benefit by the association. So I made a doubly wrong mistake there.”

On political ads on social media

“In that domain, essentially targeting should not be allowed … I actually disagree with targeting but I also disagree with people who think a corporation should sit there and do fact-checking against that thing.”

On Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s interest in space

Sorkin: Do you have any interest in space?

Gates: No

Sorkin: Your neighbor in Seattle likes space.

Gates: He can have it.

Sorkin: Why’s that?

Gates: Because malnutrition is so much more impactful. HIV is more impactful. Malaria’s more impactful.

Sorkin: Have you ever talked to Jeff about that?

Gates: Oh sure. Elon likes Mars. Jeff likes artificial planets. I’ve read a lot of science fiction but I guess not as much as they did.


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