MR. DAVID GREGORY: This Sunday, giving thanks and giving back. As we take a break from the rough and tumble world of politics here in Washington, we sit down with three very well-known Americans who are blessed with good fortune and who are using those fortunes to help those with far less.
His "Purpose Driven Life" has sold more copies than any other book in history other than the Bible, and he leads one of America's largest congregations at his Saddleback Church in California. Pastor Rick Warren joins us for an exclusive discussion of faith and charity.
Then he's the world's richest man, founder of computer giant Microsoft. Together with his wife, Melinda, Bill Gates also runs the largest private charitable foundation in the world. They're here exclusively to discuss their mission to improve global health and education.
But first, our focus on giving thanks and helping others during a tumultuous period in our country economically and politically. With us: pastor, best-selling author and no stranger to Washington, Rick Warren.
Pastor Rick Warren, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.
MR. RICK WARREN: Good to be back. Thank you.
MR. GREGORY: And I will call you Pastor Rick, as I know you like to be called.
MR. WARREN: Yeah, just call me Rick. Just call me for dinner.
MR. GREGORY: What is testing the faith of Americans, do you think, as we approach this holiday season?
MR. WARREN: Well, no doubt about it, the economy, the, the war in Afghanistan; but also I just think the political divisions are a big deal, that the, the coarsening of our society, that we're, we're demonizing differences. Those things need to be dealt with.
MR. GREGORY: We think about Thanksgiving, we think about giving and being thankful for blessings.
MR. WARREN: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: You have talked about giving in your own life. You've acted on giving. You give.
MR. WARREN: Yeah.
MR. GREGORY: And you say that it's not a sin to be rich, but it's a sin to die rich.
MR. WARREN: I believe that. That's a personal conviction of mine. You know, thanks and giving go together. You, you can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving. You spell love G-I-V-E. Probably the most famous verse in the Bible is John 3:16, "God so loved the world that he gave his son." The Bible says every good gift comes from God. We're most like God when we're giving, when we're generous, because everything we have is a gift. And I've gone on this journey for many years. When Kay and I got married 35 years ago, we began the biblical practice of tithing 10 percent. Ten percent we would give away to help other people. At the end of our first year we raised it to 11 percent; at the end of our second year, raised it to 12; the end of our third year, raised it to 13. And each year--now, the Bible doesn't tell you to do this. We were just--every time I give, it breaks the grip of materialism in my life. My heart grows bigger. And on years that things were financially tight and we didn't have a lot of money, we'd still raise our giving maybe a quarter of a percent. And then when I'd get a raise or something, we'd raise it 4 or 5 percent. Well, now, after 35 years, we actually give away 90 percent and live on 10. And I play this game with God where God says, "Rick, you give to me and I'll give to you and we'll see who wins." I've lost it for 35 years.
MR. GREGORY: But also in the Bible, in Deuteronomy it says, "Do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your impoverished brother." But at a time...MR. WARREN: Absolutely.
MR. GREGORY: ...of so much economic fear, of resentment, of anxiety...
MR. WARREN: Yeah.
MR. GREGORY: ...how do you encourage people to, to avoid hardening their heart?
MR. WARREN: Well, you can get compassion fatigue, because you see it all the time. But it is always possible to give thanks by giving. All--you can see--what God looks at is not the amount you give, he looks at the amount left over compared to what you give. And, you know, even if you didn't have any money, you can give time, which is actually far more valuable. You can always get more money. But when you give your time, you're giving away your life. So it's possible to always give something. By the way, when some people talk about giving, they, they stop at nothing.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. WARREN: Yeah.
MR. GREGORY: We've seen that giving has--in 2008, charitable giving was down.
MR. WARREN: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: But not to religious institutions.
MR. WARREN: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: It was as strong as ever. Why?
MR. WARREN: Well, I think because faith communities teach the importance of generosity, that it's, it's a Godly quality. As I said, we're most like God when, when we're giving. The, the issue of, of, of God is love, as I said, is a matter of giving back, and I, I think it's just a spiritual discipline. If you don't have that spiritual discipline, it's pretty easy--by the way, it's not an accident the word "miser" and "miserable" come from the same root word.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm. It's interesting, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin in his book "A Code of Jewish Ethics" writes something that caught my eye.
MR. WARREN: Yeah.
MR. GREGORY: I'll put it on the screen here. "We become good people not by thinking good thoughts but by doing good deeds again and again." And it's the repetition of that. But how do you see a distinction between a lot of people who get caught up in giving where it may be that they're checking a box, they're sending in a check.
MR. WARREN: Right, right.
MR. GREGORY: But, but they're not emptying themselves.
MR. WARREN: Right, right.
MR. GREGORY: Or they're not really giving a gift of their heart.
MR. WARREN: Right.
MR. GREGORY: Are there differences?
MR. WARREN: Well, I think there are different kinds of levels of giving. There is--at, at the shallowest level is what I call the impulsive giving. And that is, I see a commercial and I give or I see somebody on the street and I give and it's just an emotional response. That's good, it's better than nothing. But moving from impulsive giving up to regular giving, where I make it a habit in my life. The--as--whether I need--whether other people need it or my temple or church needs it or not, I'm giving for my own benefit to, to be, to become generous. Then there's systematic giving, there's proportional giving and then there's sacrificial giving, which is, is giving when you really can't afford it. And, and that is really the highest, giving yourself away when you can't afford it.
MR. GREGORY: Let's talk about the stewardship of influence and affluence.
MR. WARREN: Sure.
MR. GREGORY: Something that you've talked about before.
MR. WARREN: Sure.
MR. GREGORY: What kind of influence...
MR. WARREN: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: ...are you having on fighting some of the most difficult problems around the world, including your work on the continent of Africa?
MR. WARREN: Mm-hmm. Well, David, in, in 2002 when I wrote "Purpose Driven Life," and then it became a, a big best-seller and sold a lot of copies, it, it honestly brought in tens of millions of dollars. When you write the best-selling hardback in American history and the most translated book in the world except for the Bible, it's tens of millions of dollars. And frankly, when this money started coming in, I--it scared me. I thought, I'm a pastor, I live a pretty simple lifestyle and I don't need money, and so what am I supposed to do with this? And when you write a book and the first sentence says, "It's not about you," then you figure the money's not for you, too.
So we made five decisions. The first one was we're not going to change our lifestyle one bit. I still live in the same house I've lived in 16 years. I drive a 10-year-old Ford truck, bought my watch at Wal-Mart. You know, to me if you've got a good pair of jeans and a comfortable T-shirt, you don't have a whole lot of needs. So we didn't change it. Second thing is I stopped taking a salary from Saddleback Church now seven years ago. The third thing is I added up all the church had paid me in the first 25 years and I gave it all back. And I did that because I didn't want anybody thinking that I do what I do for money. I do this because I love Jesus Christ and I love God, and it's, it's out of my motivation--and I love people that do this.
We set up some charities. We have one called Acts of Mercy, which my wife leads that helps people infected and affected with AIDS, and another one called Equipping Leaders, and we pay for leadership training all around the world. We set up a program called the PEACE Plan, P-E-A-C-E, which stands for Promote reconciliation, equip servant leaders--ethical leaders, assist the poor, care for the sick, educate the next generation. By the end of December next year, we will have--we will have, the PEACE Plan, have been to every single country in the world. There's 195 countries, 193 in the U.N.--North Korea and Bosnia aren't in the U.N. We will have been in every country doing these humanitarian works.
MR. GREGORY: Where is the need the greatest?
MR. WARREN: Well, the most oppressed country by far is North Korea, there's no doubt about it. The, the people there are suffering because of the idolatry of their own leader and things like that.
But I would say the greatest need right now are the 146 million orphans in the world. There are 146 million kids growing up without mommies and daddies. That is anarchy waiting to happen. And whoever gets there first and loves them first will have their heart and devotion. And I always say to our government leaders that, that health care and poverty and relief is--and orphan care, that's--this is good foreign policy. I, I discovered in--during the President Bush years that--during PEPFAR that when you save a life, people tend to like your country. They say, you know, "My husband's alive because of PEPFAR. My"--and so these things are important that we, we continue them because people will die, but also it's, it's good policy.
MR. GREGORY: It raises the point about what our priorities are. Bill and Melinda Gates, who we're also talking to in this program...
MR. WARREN: Right. Hm.
MR. GREGORY: ...make the point that, that even a foundation like the Gates Foundation, which has the resources, which has scale...
MR. WARREN: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: ...it's still the government that has to be involved...
MR. WARREN: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: ...to really have the, the biggest impact that's possible on this kind of problem.
MR. WARREN: Yeah. Well, actually, there, there, there are three different sectors, and they all have a role. I've spoken at Davos several times, and when I go I hear them talking about we need public/private partnerships. And they're talking about public/private partnership for ending poverty, for ending malaria, for, you know, all of these chronic global issues. And they say we need this partnership, but actually, they're missing the third leg of the stool. A one-legged stool will fall over, two-legged stool will fall over. There is the public sector, which is government and the NGOs, the nonprofits; there is the profit sector, which is business; and there is the faith sector. There's three sectors to society, not, not two, and each of them bring something to the table that the other doesn't have. Government has agenda-setting ability, priority-setting ability. Somebody's got to pave the roads and, and they--and government often will take the lead in this. Business brings things to the table like expertise, like capital and a, a really good thing is management, because most governments, most churches and most businesses are poorly managed. But temples and churches and houses of worship, mosques, they bring things to the table that government and business will never have. They have volunteer manpower, they have local credibility, they have the widest distribution. I could take you to 10 million villages around the world, the only thing in it's a church. They don't have a government, they don't have a hospital, they don't have a school, but they got a church. The church was global 200 years before anybody started talking about globalization.
MR. GREGORY: How close are we to getting an AIDS vaccine?
MR. WARREN: I don't think it'll be soon. My prayer is that we get it in this--within this generation. But I think what we have to do is even while we're waiting for the vaccine, we just keep on working for education. So much of AIDS is behavioral based and, I mean, you don't just get it out of the air. And we want to, we want to stop AIDS, we want to end AIDS, and we work with anybody and everybody who's willing to work. This is an important thing that I think even at this Thanksgiving, as we move into the holiday seasons, you don't have to agree with everybody to work with them on something. I can work with Muslims and atheists and other religions and gays and straights and--I can work with any--if you want to save a life, that's a human issue. And, and so you don't have to water down your beliefs, but you, you can work for the common good. And that's what we need. I believe in the good news and I believe in the common good.
MR. GREGORY: As you have, you and Kay have embraced people living with AIDS...
MR. WARREN: Oh, yeah.
MR. GREGORY: ...has it changed your views at all about homosexuality?
MR. WARREN: Oh, oh, absolutely, much more sympathetic and understanding the pains and the reactions. I, I have understood that so many people today get stigmatized for different things. Now, of course, I have biblical beliefs on--about homosexuality. But when somebody's dying on the side of the road, you don't walk up to them and say, you know, "What's your nationality?" or, "What's your lifestyle?" or, "What's your, your gender preference?" or, anything else. You just help the guy. And this is the, by the way, the difference--I was asked the other day about illegal immigration, things like that. The role of a pastor and the role of the government are different things. My role is to love everybody. I am called to love everybody. In fact, the Bible says love your enemies. I am forbidden to hate anyone, OK? So I can't--I am to love everybody. And if someone's hurting, I don't walk up and say, "Are you illegally here?" I just want to hurt--help the person. But the government does have a right to decide who's in and who's out and things like that.
MR. GREGORY: But, when you think about the debate about Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in California, and you think about how much money, the tens of millions of dollars spent on both pro--for and against Proposition 8.
MR. WARREN: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: And as you look back at that do you say, well, maybe that money'd be better spent trying to fight AIDS and find a vaccine for AIDS rather than having that fight?
MR. WARREN: I could give you a hundred campaigns where that would be true. I mean, I think we spend...
MR. GREGORY: Is it true in this one, though?
MR. WARREN: Oh, of course. I spend--we spend way too much money on everything else that, that--and not on what matters. If--you know, as a pastor, I'm always looking at how do we relieve the suffering, and I'm also looking at how do we increase prosperity for everybody? For instance, you know, you've heard the phrase, "Don't give a man a fish, teach him to fish." Well, that's not even good enough. If you--I've discovered if you teach a man to fish, you create a village of fisherman; they all catch the same fish and they have a, a subsistence economy. You need to teach a man how to sell a fish. You need to teach him how to build a business. You need to teach to some build the nets and some builds the boats and, and create a free enterprise so that the, the society raises itself out of, out of just subsistence on a, a more complex economy.
MR. GREGORY: Just sticking with that topic for just a moment. If the issue of legalizing gay marriage comes up again...
MR. WARREN: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: ...on the ballot in California...
MR. WARREN: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: ...would you work to fight that?
MR. WARREN: You know, my position on gay marriage is very clear and it hasn't changed. What I do believe in is that it is my job to love everybody, no doubt about it.
MR. GREGORY: So you would fight it?
MR. WARREN: Well, again, I'm not a politician. I didn't fight it in the last issue. What was misunderstood is people, people on both sides tried to make me the campaign leader. I only mentioned it one time, and I mentioned it to my own congregation when I was asked, "What is our position on this?" and I made a video for our congregation. Well, that was dumb, because it immediately went everywhere and then all the sudden it looked like I was the big campaigner. And--but I wasn't. Of course I have a position on it. As a pastor, I happen to believe what the Bible says. But I also believe that I understand the pain that people feel from rejection. So I care about both angles.
MR. GREGORY: Let me talk a little bit about leadership. We're in Washington...
MR. WARREN: Sure.
MR. GREGORY: ...and we'll talk about President Obama. You were chosen to give the invocation at the inauguration, and here's a portion of what you said that day. Let's watch.
(Videotape, January 20, 2009)
MR. WARREN: Give to our new president, Barack Obama, the wisdom to lead us with humility, the courage to lead us with integrity, the compassion to lead us with generosity.
MR. GREGORY: How's he done?
MR. WARREN: Well, I think he's--I think this president came with a, a number of cards stacked against him, that's for sure. He entered the presidency with more on the plate than many of the previous presidents entered with. And my biggest fear is that there'll be too much on the agenda and that things will get bogged down. I, I personally believe that the number one thing we need to do is get America back to work. I think before, I think before health care or anything else, we need to get people back to work. There's nearly 10 percent unemployed. That's the equivalent of Canada being unemployed. And so we have to look at this fact that if we get people back to work, then we can work on some of these other issues. Now, Afghanistan, of course, was already going on. But that's what leadership is, is being able to balance balls and juggle things like that. And, you know, I certainly pray for him.
MR. GREGORY: Would you give him a grade so far of how he's conducting...
MR. WARREN: I don't--I wouldn't grade. You know, again, my, my whole goal is--as a pastor, my goal is to, to encourage, to support. I never take sides. I have friends who are Republicans and I have friends who are Democrats, and I'm for my friends. People ask me, "Are you left wing or right wing?" and it's pretty well known I say, "I'm for the whole bird," because I'm for America. And so I want the president to succeed, I want the Congress to succeed.
MR. GREGORY: You talk--you mentioned health care just a minute ago. It's interesting, do you--you say it shouldn't be as high a priority...
MR. WARREN: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: ...as getting people back to work. Is there a moral obligation, though, for--of leadership to provide health insurance more widely in our society?
MR. WARREN: Well, let's go back to that issue of the stewardship of influence. When the book came out and all the sudden I started getting interviews--requests to, like, be on MEET THE PRESS, and this was new for me. I said, "I'm just a pastor. I'm not a politician, I'm not a pundit." And so I began to say, "What am I supposed to do with this, this platform?" And I don't believe God gives you money or influence for your own ego, so you can just be a fat cat and be a celebrity. We need more heroes, fewer celebrities. Heroes sacrifice for others, celebrities sacrifice for themselves.
Now, I found one day as I was praying in the--and reading the Bible, in Psalms 72 we have Solomon's prayer for more influence. And when you read this prayer, it sounds like the most self-centered prayer you could imagine, because he says, "God, I want you to make me famous." He said, "I want you to spread the fame of my name through many countries. I want you to give me power. I want you to bless me." And then you read why Solomon prayed that. He says, "So that the king may support the widow and orphan, care for the sick, defend the defenseless, speak up for the oppressed." He talks about the marginalized of society. Today he'd talk about those in prison, he'd talk about the elderly, the handicapped mentally and things like that. And out of that passage God spoke to me in a personal way and said, "The purpose of influence is to speak up for those who have no influence." So absolutely, one of the stewardships of leadership is to speak up for those who have no voice. Now, I personally believe that includes the unborn, because they have no voice. But speaking up for the poor, for the sick, for those who are disenfranchised is part of what leadership's all about.
MR. GREGORY: You bring that up. What more should the president do, in your mind--and you talked about this during your, your forum that you had with both McCain and Obama last year.
MR. WARREN: Yeah. Yes.
MR. GREGORY: What more should he do to restrict abortion?
MR. WARREN: Well, you know, to me--who was it, Peggy...
MR. GREGORY: Noonan?
MR. WARREN: ...Noonan said it.
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
MR. WARREN: She said, you know, "If you ask the question when does life begin," she said, "any 16-year-old boy who's bought a condom knows when life begins." And I happen to agree with that.
MR. GREGORY: And so how should--what should the president do?
MR. WARREN: Well, I, I certainly am--I think we've had 46 million Americans who aren't here, those who could be here since Roe v. Wade who are not voting. And I, I think that, in a sense, is a holocaust. I really do. Now, I think that we have to get beyond the, the name-calling and find common ground to work on, on these issues. Now, I don't understand the, the idea of it should be rare and, and less. Well, either you believe it's life or you don't. It--why would you believe it should be rare? Because if, if it's not--if a baby, a fetus is not a life, then why restrict it?
MR. GREGORY: It's interesting. This is playing out in the healthcare debate about whether...
MR. WARREN: Yeah.
MR. GREGORY: In, in the House there was an amendment to prohibit public funds be used...
MR. WARREN: Yeah.
MR. GREGORY: ...to pay for abortion if there's a public plan in health care.
MR. WARREN: Yeah.
MR. GREGORY: E.J. Dionne wrote this in The Washington Post recently about the involvement of Catholic bishops, saying, "Catholic bishops...have a long history of supporting universal coverage," health insurance...
MR. WARREN: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: ..."but [have] devoted most of their recent energy to the abortion battle. How much muscle will the bishops put behind the broader effort to pass health-care reform? Their credibility as advocates for social justice hangs in the balance." Raising the question, is there a moral equivalency between fighting for the unborn but also fighting for universal coverage? Should there be equal energy to both efforts?
MR. WARREN: Well, this is what I call--I'm not pro-life, I'm whole life, which means I don't just want to protect that little baby girl before she's born; I want to make sure she gets an education, she's not raised in poverty, she gets her vaccinations. And so this is what I call the whole life platform, which, beyond just pro-life of protecting that unborn child, goes on. And, and part of my goal has been to not deny what I believe, that historically Catholics and evangelicals have stood firm on together, but expand the agenda to say we can't just care about that, we've got to care about the child after she's born and make sure she gets an education, she grows up healthy and grows up to be a productive human being.
MR. GREGORY: I--our hearts are heavy still this holiday season with the loss at Fort Hood, the massacre at Fort Hood.
MR. WARREN: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: And I wonder, in your efforts at interfaith dialogue and inclusion...
MR. WARREN: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: ...what concerns you as you look at some of these conflicts, even within the military...
MR. WARREN: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: ...where we have Muslim soldiers who are facing, it appears, this deep ambivalence at the very least, if not deeper tension...
MR. WARREN: Mm-hmm.
GREGORY: ...about fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan against other Muslims.
MR. WARREN: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. My fear is that America will go to one of two extremes. One is to move toward the extreme of fearing anybody who's called a Muslim. And my--the other extreme is the fear of going to a political correctness that won't admit that there are some religious motivated killings out there. Al-Qaeda no more represents Islam than the Ku Klux Klan represents Christianity. A lot of things are done in the name of religion that, that most of the people of that religion would disavow. So I have many dear friends who are Muslims who personally would disavow that, are loyal Americans and, and, and stand up for freedom and, and want to be in America and are not in favor--they left their country so they could be here in America. So my, my fear is that we're going to do one of those two things. We'll swing to the, the pendulum, either extreme, and all the sudden everybody who's a Muslim is suspect. That's wrong. But then to say we can't point out that religion does motivate--sometimes a, a Christian religion--there are, there are fundamentalists in every faith and in no faith.
Now, my idea of a fundamentalist--fundamentalist actually was a good term. It began years ago, J.M. Pendleton and others talking about people who believed the fundamentals of the Bible. But that doesn't mean, you now, words change meaning. Grass doesn't mean what it meant--use to meant, gay doesn't mean what it use to mean. And, and fundamentalists, I say a fundamentalist today is someone who's stopped listening. Once you stop listening, you are a fundamentalist. Now, there are Christian fundamentalists who stopped listening, there are Muslim, there are Jewish fundamentalists, there are secular fundamentalists, there are atheist fundamentalists. They don't listen. And I think that, that is the group that we need to say, in all areas, "If, if you're not willing to listen, we're not going to give you the respect that, that you're demanding."
MR. GREGORY: I want to end with something that I've thought a lot about in, in reading "A Purpose Driven Life," and it's something that comes from questions to ponder at the end of each chapter.
MR. WARREN: Oh, yeah.
MR. GREGORY: Which I think are, are some very challenging...
MR. WARREN: So you're reading "Purpose Driven Life." I would just like to recommend that to everybody watching.
MR. GREGORY: And, and this is one of the questions to consider at the end of one of the early chapters: "What would my family and friends say is the driving force of my life?"
MR. WARREN: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: "What do I want to be?"
MR. WARREN: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: How should people approach that question?
MR. WARREN: Well, there was another well-known author who once said the way you look at your life is imagine yourself at your funeral, sitting up in the balcony and hearing people talk about you, and think of what you'd like them to say about you and then build your life that way. And I thought, well, that's good. That's definitely progress. But I think there's a better thing, and that is to look at your life, say, "What do I want God to say about me when I die?" Not, not other people, because ultimately it doesn't matter what other people said about you. What matters is what God said about you. And if I were to summarize my life, it is to, to know and love God--and as a Christian, of course, I believe him through his son Christ--to, to grow spiritually in maturity, to serve God with all my heart and to share his love with the whole world. That brings honor to him. So when I say I know and I love and I grow and I serve and I share, that's my life.
MR. GREGORY: That's your purpose.
MR. WARREN: That's my purpose. And for other people to, to, to, to narrow their life down to simple sentences, I think it's a very helpful thing. It sure adds clarity and it, it certainly relieves pressure.
MR. GREGORY: What if you can identify what your purpose is...
MR. WARREN: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: ...but you have--you struggle with whether you're living up to that purpose?
MR. WARREN: Yeah.
MR. GREGORY: Because it's one thing to say, "Well, this is my purpose." Are you really.
MR. WARREN: Yeah, it's a good point. Well, studies have shown that probably 70 percent of Americans are in the wrong job. They're in a job that they hate, they're not wired to do. We believe that God actually shapes each individual for a purpose, that some are made to be oceanographers and some are made to be reporters and some are made to close deals and some are made to be accountants and some are made to teach school. And, and how do you know what you're shaped to do? Two things: it's fulfilling and you're fruitful. If you're good at it and you love doing it, you're--you come alive. You don't have to be paid for what your purpose is, you'd do it even if you weren't paid. In fact, I'm not paid to do what I do and I don't take a salary. And so I, I do it out of love. I'm wired to do this. And the reason why we all do--have different shapes is so--God wanted everything in the world to get done. If we all liked to do the same thing, there'd a lot get undone.
And so if you--the greatest things in life are not things. Never give your life for money, because your net worth and your self-worth are not the same thing. Your value and your valuables are not the same thing. And who you are is much more important than what you do. And if you can stop and look at your life and say, "What do I love to do? What did God wire me to do? And what am I good at?" And a lot of times you don't even know it, but other people say, "You know what you're good at?" Then that's the direction you need to head.
MR. GREGORY: What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?
MR. WARREN: I'm thankful for my relationship to Jesus Christ, for my salvation, my forgiveness, my eternal life in heaven. I'm thankful to God for my wife, my three children--Amy, Josh and Matthew--and my four grandchildren--Kaylie, Caleb, Cassidy and Cole.
MR. GREGORY: Pastor Rick, thank you.
MR. WARREN: Thank you.
MR. GREGORY: Up next, he made his fortune as the founder of Microsoft, but billionaire Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda, also run the largest private charitable foundation in the world. What is the future of an AIDS vaccine, and will the Obama administration pledge to do more in fighting disease, hunger and illiteracy around the world? Only on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. GREGORY: Bill and Melinda Gates, after this brief commercial break.
MR. GREGORY: We're back. I recently sat down with Microsoft founder Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda, to discuss what they are doing as part of the Gates Foundation to help save lives around the world.
Let me start by asking both of you about something you've, you've both said in your fight for global health and all the work that the foundation does. You say you're an impatient optimist. Explain that a little bit.
MR. BILL GATES: Well, we're both optimistic because we see the progress that's being made and we know that there's brilliant scientists who are working on new vaccines, better ways of getting those vaccines out. And a lot of countries, once they get to a certain level of health and education, they really become self-sustaining. The brilliance, the energy gets going and then we can focus our energy on, on those that are still needing that kind of help. But we're impatient because it often goes slow and, you know, this is about saving lives and allowing people to achieve their potential. So the faster we can get new innovations out there, the better.
MR. GREGORY: Mrs. Gates, what the Gates Foundation can do is extraordinary in terms of the resources, but government is still an essential player. So what's working?
MS. MELINDA GATES: Well, what I would say is working is immunizing children. We save--we're saving millions of lives a year just by literally delivering the vaccines that exist in the United States today and cutting down the lag and the amount of time that it takes to get those vaccines to developing worlds. And while we can invest some of our money in that, it really takes enormous amount of government funding and commitment to get those vaccines out. And then the other piece that we help is--with is really the research, which is getting the new vaccines created that are really just for the poor children. So a new vaccine for pneumonia, a new vaccine for diarrheal disease that really exists in the developing world.
MR. GREGORY: What, what do you find--and part of what you're talking about here is the fact that there are government programs that are working that people may not realize are working.
MS. GATES: Absolutely, and that's part of the news that we want to get out. Especially the president's emergency plan for AIDS relief, PEPFAR...
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MS. GATES: ...has delivered three million anti-retrovirals to people in Africa who are living today because they got these life-saving drugs against HIV/AIDS. That's up from only 155,000 people five years ago. So it's really--when we go out and travel, there's immense hope about AIDS in Africa today because of that specific program and that specific American investment.
MR. GREGORY: Mr. Gates, how close are we to an AIDS vaccine, do you think?
MR. GATES: It's very unclear. We had some results recently that will probably guide us in coming up with a vaccine, but there's no certain date. You know, in the meantime, we hope to have some pill that you could take that might prevent you from getting the disease. We'll get trial results of that next year. But the--a really fully effective vaccine could be much more than a decade away. You know, we're investing, the U.S. government's investing, and that is the eventual solution.
MR. GREGORY: Why such a focus on vaccines instead of non vaccine-related illnesses?
MR. GATES: Well, vaccines are the most powerful intervention, if you can get one. You know, we eliminated small pox by using the vaccine. We're close to eliminating polio by using a vaccine. For malaria, we'd love to have a vaccine. But in the meantime, we are investing in, in drugs and bed nets that can bring the death rate down. For tuberculosis, we're working on a vaccine. But in the meantime, easier to take drugs, better drugs so that it gets cured much faster. But in every disease, if you can just take a few shots as a child and have lifelong protection, in terms of simplicity of delivery, low cost of delivery, nothing beats that.
MR. GREGORY: Is there a focus, too, on, on getting more of an emotional connection? I mean, talk a little bit about some of the personal stories that you've encountered.
MS. GATES: Sure. And I think it's really important for people that you put the human face on what's happening. So when I travel out to many villages in Africa, you see these women that when they know there's something there that will save themselves or save their child, they will go to incredible lengths to take advantage of that. So a woman I met last year in Tanzania had walked six hours. She was 20 years old, she had four children at home, but she knew about this rural clinic. It had no electricity and it had no water, so she carried her food and her water with her. But she knew she was on the verge of delivering this baby, and she came there to deliver her child because she knew there would be birth attendants there and the chance that she would live and not hemorrhage during childbirth, and that the baby would be born healthy. Just, it increased her odds. And so she did the right thing. And we see it time and time again in the developing world.
MR. GREGORY: Is it difficult to defend the kind of aid that you are giving and that you're calling on U.S.--the U.S. government to give when we're in the midst of a global recession?
MS. GATES: Well, I think in some ways not, because it's such a tiny fraction of the U.S. budgets. So we're talking about less than 1 percent of the entire U.S. budget. In fact, it's about .25 percent of the U.S. budget that goes to these health issues. And I think what we're finding is that when people hear how incredibly successful and that we're literally saving lives, it's something they're interested in being a part of. So we think it's something that really needs to get continued and it's very appropriate, even in these times that we're having in the economy. We hear people talk over and over again about they care about the values of American people, about--we care about equality on the planet. And that's what we're doing, is we're taking life-saving advances to people who don't have them.
MR. GREGORY: But there's still the question of efficiency, the question of aid dependency in a lot of African nations, corruption, getting aid to people. You've been engaged in debates with folks who think that, you know, the West has poured so much aid into, to Africa to little effect.
MR. GATES: That's right. And we're saying that the aid going to global health really is measured and really is transformative. That is, the countries that receive it over time will be self-sustaining. And if we don't help them with their health issues, they won't get onto that virtuous cycle. And that's why we're, you know, putting some of those stories up there; the story of how the AIDS treatment from the, the U.S. taxpayer has saved millions of lives. The story about the new vaccines that are getting out there and are going to cut childhood deaths, which are now below nine million a year. With the new investments the U.S. government can make, that, through partnerships, will get down to below five million a year. So it's a, it's a very positive time, it's a very positive story. This stuff is not stockpiled in the basement of, of some dictator, you know, it's, it's getting out to he women who need it.
MR. GREGORY: Well, you've also, you've also made the case that this is not about a country's economic growth. Whether or not they are--whether they're advancing economically, you still have an obligation. You think the world, you think the U.S. government has an obligation to tend to these global health needs despite what maybe happening economically in the country.
MR. GATES: Well, the taxpayers will decide. And we're sharing the success stories so as they think about the tough tradeoffs that will come in the budget, they know that these dollars are improving and saving lives more effectively than any money they spend. And, you know, they should feel good about what they have invested and then take that into consideration. We'd like to see it increase. We think from the point of view of humanitarian point of view, from the reputation of the country point of view, the values of the country, this is a phenomenal investment. And it's a, you know, a quarter of 1 percent. But it's only through awareness that that can happen because, after all, these aren't voters. It has to be the values of the entire country brought to bear.
MR. GREGORY: And what about priorities? We're living at a time of immense public frustration with government spending on bailouts for Wall Street, incredible spending on war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Should the country spend less on war and more on these kind of public health commitments?
MS. GATES: Well, I think you'd always say--you'd always hear us say that they should spend more on global health commitments. And I think people get frustrated, though, when they don't know whether things are working. And I think that's one of the reasons we're trying to get these stories out is so that people understand these investments are literally working and saving lives. We wouldn't put our own money into these things--I mean, every time we invest money in something like the vaccine initiative, we ask ourselves again, are we going to invest more money? We're only going to do that if we're getting results. And that's, I think, what the American government should be asking.
MR. GREGORY: But you must encounter this all the time. I mean, we have debates about whether we should be in Afghanistan, whether we can really bring transformational change to a country that is underdeveloped economically, from a point of view of global health, to say nothing of security. And yet getting people to focus on the continent of Africa, to understand what competitiveness in Africa or better health on the continent of Africa means to the rest of the world is a big challenge.
MR. GATES: It is. And really showing people that even when you're very poor, even if you don't have a good government, that these health interventions can work. That's kind of surprising to people because, you know, so many things have failed. And there are types of aid that you have to wait until the government is more stable, building roads, other things where the U.S. government conditions that on certain developments. But health is the first step. Health brings the population growth down, which is counterintuitive. It sets a country up, whether it's to educate their people or sustain the environment in a very positive way. So we'd say it's the first thing and the thing that should be done broadly. Many other things can wait until you get the, the right conditions.
MR. GREGORY: What's the role of technology, of computers specifically, in these kinds of health advancements around the world?
MR. GATES: Well, indirectly, it's very important where the researchers who are all over the world are taking data from Africa of what's working, looking at their latest understanding of biology, comparing notes on this, so that collaboration could never work as well without the advances in computers and DNA sequencing. When it actually comes to the on the ground work, there's a little bit of computers. But the, the final mile is a rural village that doesn't have electricity. Even keeping these vaccines cold enough so they don't spoil is a particular problem. So at, at the final point of delivery, so far there's no computer. We're looking at how over time as cell phones are getting into even these countries you could take a diagnostic, get advice from a doctor, you know, send back pictures of, of things. So there may be a limited role. But right now the, the key technology is keeping the vaccine cold and, and making cheap vaccines.
MR. GREGORY: But could this be an area of more investment on the part of the foundation, particularly?
MS. GATES: Sure. And we're in particular looking at cell phones, because they are so many people in the developing world that have a cell phone. So you can send a reminder message to a mom to bring her baby in: "The vaccines are here, they're available tomorrow. Come into this rural health clinic and get it." That's one example. Another example is farmers who've gotten their crops ready and they want to know what the price is at the various markets that are nearby. "Which road do I take?" You can send them the price information. Having information on your cell phone is very, very powerful for, for people in the developing world.
MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you both about philanthropy more generally, and the kind of influence that you'd like to have and influences on you. I mean, your, your identity now is about philanthropy. So what kind--what has influenced you in this regard, and, and how do you want to be influential not just to the government, but to individuals as they think about giving back?
MS. GATES: Well, a huge influence on us has been Warren Buffett. I mean, he had always committed that his money was going to go back to society. We knew that from early on when we met him. We didn't know how he was going to do that. He was actually planning to do it with his wife in their own foundation. And so Warren's thinking about wealth and giving it back to society influenced us greatly. And when we got married, we were already had made the decision that this money that had been amassed would go back, resource to society. So, but even Warren's thinking about how you think about the problems of the world, how you think about your own life has just been fantastic for us. And he's very engaged with us in, in philanthropy and thinking about it. And the money that he gave to the foundation allowed us to surround some of the health work we were already doing so that we could move into some areas where people could lift their lives up, such as different crops in the developing world or financial services for the poor.
MR. GREGORY: Did you imagine this would be your identity as you were beginning your career?
MR. GATES: Well, I, I think I'm very lucky to have had my work at Microsoft, which I loved, and now this work, which I'm also loving. And, you know, as we share how much fun we're having, you know, we see--for every step backwards, we see two forward. You know, I hope it draws more people in to take, you know, while they're alive and can not just provide money, but also their energy, their influence, their intelligence. I hope we'll have lots more of active philanthropists. The United States is unique in a history of great philanthropists, and we've certainly learned from many of those. You know, Warren is our great adviser now, but, you know, we've looked back and saw what did even Carnegie, Rockefeller, the early givers, what did they do that made them so impactful? And, you know, now there's a new generation of givers that are, are really amazing, and we, we try to learn from them as well.
MR. GREGORY: Are--do you believe in capitalism now the way you always have?
MR. GATES: Absolutely. Capitalism is a phenomenal system. The innovation that brought the number of children dying from 20 million down to nine million, then it'll get it down to five million, most of that is this fantastic system which the U.S. is the best example of, where you have a reasonable role for government, great universities, but this private sector responding to price signals, doing innovations, hiring the best scientists and then taking some of that through government giving, foundation and corporations thinking about their broader values. That comes together in a way that, that allows the U.S. to help the entire world and, you know, it, it's great to see how well it works.
MR. GREGORY: What's your assessment of the U.S. economy at this point? You mentioned your friend Warren Buffett who described what happened in the financial markets and to the financial system as a Pearl Harbor for this country. Are we coming out of it?
MR. GATES: We've definitely gotten onto a plateau where things aren't going to fall and get a lot worse. And, and people's confidence that the system isn't crumbling, that's very important. So we're well past that period of panic. How quickly things are going to take off in different sectors, and everybody's looking for different pieces of evidence. We had a, a Berkshire Hathaway--Warren Buffet's company--board meeting recently, and we had people from different businesses. The brick guys came in and said, "Well, bricks aren't selling that much better yet, but it's not falling off." So the, the signs of growth are still quite limited.
MR. GREGORY: But what--when we talk about comeback and recovery, one of the questions that always comes up is, “Come back to what?” In other words, what does the economy look like, and how fundamentally different is it than what preceded it before this financial collapse?
MR. GATES: Well, there's always, you know, new products, new ideas, and the U.S. is the best at having the economy adjust to new opportunities, you know, whether it's taking advantage of the Internet or taking advantage of the, the biotech revolution. There were some excesses in that economy that, you know, people are thinking maybe should not be repeated. But consumption levels, the, the levels of consumer debt, the riskiness of, of some of the financial practices. By and large, though, we need to get people back spending. We need to have the benefits of innovation, which is really all--what always bails you out, always gets you back and going is that we do have the great universities, the great corporate research labs, and those were not cut off. Despite how scary the last year was, the key innovation, whether it's Microsoft software or pharmaceuticals, that is, is at the center of this economy, and it was not, not shut down.
MR. GREGORY: Mrs. Gates, I want to come back to this question that you both have thought a lot about, which is the notion of creative capitalism; you know, that the capitalist system is still in good order. How can it better be deployed to fight some of the challenges that you're fighting?
MS. GATES: Well, I think companies are starting to find ways to work in the developing world that are both good capital investments for them where they make money, but also are helping the people in the developing world. So I'll give you an example. Dannon yogurt does exactly this, which is they set up a small plant in Bangladesh where they take their yogurt and they make it out in these local, smaller villages, and at the same time they're mixing key ingredients into the yogurt. So people from the local villages are bringing in their milk supply to make the yogurt, and then they're mixing in key micronutrients, and then they're selling it back out to the villages and bringing it back into the city, because they have a transport mechanism for that doing that. It's great for Dannon yogurt and it's fantastic for the people who live in these areas in Bangladesh.
MR. GREGORY: So an example of, of a profit motive being turned to...
MS. GATES: To good. Yeah.
MR. GREGORY: ...to helping people.
Let me, let me end, if I can, Mr. Gates, on the idea of personal computing. How are we going to be using computers in the next couple of years, and then how are my young kids going to be using computers?
MR. GATES: Well, the Internet is even more revolutionary than, than people expected. You know, you take--what will education be like? You know, can I get the world's best lectures? Can I test my knowledge? Can I accredit the skills that I have in a, a different way than we do it right now? You know, just that sector alone, improving that, would, would make a huge difference.
We'll also be having computers that we can talk to, computers that will see what we're doing. So whether it's, you know, making a gesture in a business meeting to zoom in on a chart or, you know, try and look at what a house would be like before it's built, this idea of the computer seeing 3-D displays and voice interaction leads, leads you to where the keyboard and the mouse, which is how we think of a computer today, is not the only way we interact. It's a far more immersive, rich environment.
MR. GREGORY: We could talk to each other.
MR. GATES: Absolutely. You know, you'll be able to just put onto the wall of your office a video conference with whoever you'd like, you know, have the computer listen to what's going on there, create a transcript, make it searchable. So natural interface, I think, is the thing that people underestimate right now.
MR. GREGORY: Thank you both very much. Good luck.
MS. GATES: Thank you.
MR. GREGORY: Thank you.
And we'll be right back.
MR. GREGORY: That's all for today. We at MEET THE PRESS hope you were inspired as much as we were to help others this holiday season. We are posting some links to our favorite charities on our Web site at mtp.msnbc.com. I hope you and your family had a wonderful holiday.
If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.