On the face of it, the timing could hardly seem to have been worse for Bill Gates. The billionaire founder of technology company Microsoft, known now for his philanthropy through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, was in Davos to make a pitch for what seems inimical to the mood in global politics. In the US, the government was shut down over President Donald Trump’s insistence on spending more than $5bn to build a wall to separate the country from Mexico, the UK is consumed by its Brexit debate and French President Emmanuel Macron gave the 2019 World Economic Forum (WEF) a meeting a miss, lest he reinforce the perception that he’s out of touch as the “yellow vest” protests threatening to overwhelm his administration. German chancellor Angela Merkel, de facto leader of the “free world”, as these Western countries were once known, was there and presented an impassioned defence of multilateralism and and global co-operation. But even she arrived a diminished figure after the forces...

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