_1DW4188     In a surprisingly insensitive and insincere interview aired by CNN on May 17, 2015, Fareed Zakaria interviewed Bill Gates. Mr. Gates made three main points during their extensive talk.

1) The American middle class is today better than it was 20 years ago. 2) Solar energy is not cost effective compared to various carbon fuels. 3) “Common Core” standards have greatly improved our education system. Hmmm.

1 Mr. Gates measured middle class progress by increasing access and use of information technology. Self-serving on his part? Recent measures of income growth and household wealth over the past two decades (particularly among minorities and less educated whites) show instead a growth in income inequality leading to a shrinking middle class.

2 Solar energy still costs too much? This depends on your accounting methods. The actual cost of using carbon as a fuel source not only includes getting it out of the ground, but also the expense of maintaining vast military establishments to protect producers from foreign and domestic threats. There is also the cost of the deterioration of fresh water as a result of fracking and oil spills. Mr. Gates also did not include as a cost the damage to human and overall environmental health (climate change, habitat destruction) from carbon fuels. These escalating, possibly exponential costs are impossible for the rest of us to ignore.

3 The blessings or curses of Common Core standards pale before the problem of inadequate funding for child education (based on local property taxes) and the unreasonably high costs of a college education. Middle class kids are being buried by debt or priced out altogether.

Mr. Zakaria called for support of free trade deals. I would like to make him a deal: You can have the latest free trade scheme in return for making sure the wealth created benefits the middle class not just the ultra rich. The likelihood of that particular deal happening, however, is too small to measure.

Mr. Zakaria and Mr. Gates have a wide platform for getting their views noted. By selectively editing out certain facts while fabricating others they can, in the short run, support any conclusion, however nonsensical. The disciplines of both history and natural history suggest that their fabrications will be shown as such in the long run. But it is the short run that worries me. The time we have left to give up the new Gilded Age fantasies to save both ourselves and our civilization seems to be all too limited.

<Puffball as metaphor for the Earth; dlw photo May 25, 2015>

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