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Bill Gates and Melinda Gates portrait
Bill Gates and Melinda Gates pose for a portrait in their personal office
The Washington Post—The Washington Post/Getty Images

For nearly two decades, Bill and Melinda Gates have been increasingly devoted to giving much of their wealth away through their foundation.

Why? In their latest annual Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation letter, the couple admits one big but simple reason: It's not fair that they have so much while others don't.

"No. It’s not fair that we have so much wealth when billions of others have so little," Melinda writes. "And it’s not fair that our wealth opens doors that are closed to most people."

Bill, who rode the tech wave of the late 20th century to a one-time $100 billion fortune, once said he wished he wasn't the richest person in the world.

"There is nothing good that comes out of that," he said in 2006.

In Tuesday's letter, Bill further explained why he and Melinda continue their foundation work instead of simply giving away their fortune to taxpayers.

"If we think it’s unfair that we have so much wealth, why don’t we give it all to the government? The answer is that we think there’s always going to be a unique role for foundations," he writes. "They’re able to take a global view to find the greatest needs, take a long-term approach to solving problems, and manage high-risk projects that governments can’t take on and corporations won’t.

"If a government tries an idea that fails, someone wasn’t doing their job. Whereas if we don’t try some ideas that fail, we’re not doing our jobs," he writes.

The foundation has been Bill's primary focus since he stepped down as Microsoft chairman in 2014. For the past several years, it has given away more than $3 billion annually, mostly to help stem health crises overseas.

The two thus also explained why they haven't spent more money in the U.S. and announced that they plan to increase their domestic funding going forward.

"We don’t compare different people’s suffering," Melinda writes. "All suffering is a terrible tragedy."

Bill said that the couple recently spent time in the American South, and were affected by what they saw.

"The issues of economic mobility in America are deeply intertwined: education, employment, race, housing, mental health, incarceration, substance abuse," Bill writes. "We haven’t decided how what we’ve been learning might affect our giving, but it has certainly had an effect on us."