Power Players

Bill Gates: 'For the first time in my life, people are saying, Okay, should you have billionaires?'

Bill Gates
Lacy O'Toole | CNBC

In America capitalism generates a lot of wealth, but it's landing in the hands of a very, very few. Microsoft co-founder Gates, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett collectively have more wealth than the 160 million poorest Americans, according to a 2017 Institute for Policy Studies report. And people may just be sick of it.

"It is fascinating that for the first time in my life, people are saying, 'Okay, should you have billionaires?'" billionaire Bill Gates told Forbes editor in chief, Randall Lane.

Watch 28-year-old Bill Gates explain why he didn't see himself as a genius

Though Gates entertains the discussion, he thinks capitalism is still a good system and "the idea that there shouldn't be billionaires—I'm afraid if you really implemented something like that, that the amount you would gain would be much less than the amount you would lose," he said.

But Gates — who is worth $98 billion and is the second richest person in the world, according to Forbes — acknowledges that opinion needs to be championed by non-billionaires. "That sounds self-interested, so who's the neutral witness on this one? … We need somebody who's not wealthy to say that in some cases allowing people to be wealthy is okay," Gates told Forbes.

The discussion comes as some question the efficacy of capitalism in the U.S.

As Forbes points out, an August 2018 Gallup poll found only 56 percent of Americans reported having a positive view of capitalism; 37 percent reported a positive view of socialism. For young Americans ages 18 to 29, 51 percent said they have a positive view of socialism and only 45 percent have a positive view of capitalism.

And Bridgewater Associates billionaire Ray Dalio said "capitalism basically is not working for the majority of people. That's just the reality," at the 2018 Summit conference in Los Angeles in November.

Along with Gates, Warren Buffett — who is worth $82.8 billion and is the third wealthiest person in the world, according to Forbes — supports a capitalist economy, but admits it's flawed. Both Gates and Buffett have said the wealthy should pay higher taxes, for example.

"America works, and it works now better than it ever worked," Buffett told Lane. "The luckiest person that will ever be born in the world to date will be a baby being born in the United States today."

However, as the market system gets more specialized, said Buffett, it "pushes more money to the top. The natural function of a more specialized market economy is to divert more and more of the rewards to the top. That's something I don't think we've fully addressed in this country."

See also:

Bill Gates: Taxes on rich should be 'much higher' but capitalism still works — here's why

Hedge fund billionaire Ray Dalio: 'Capitalism basically is not working for the majority of people'

Warren Buffett on wealth inequality: 'A rich family' takes care of its own and the US should too

Warren Buffett: We should raise taxes—it won't make the rich flee the US