Nobel Winner Warns of Dangers of Globalization
NY Times | December 12, 2006
The Bangladeshi banker Muhammad Yunus, who invented the practice of making small, unsecured loans to the poor, warned today that the globalized economy was becoming a dangerous “free-for-all highway.”
“Its lanes will be taken over by the giant trucks from powerful economies,” Dr. Yunus said during a lavish ceremony at which he was awarded the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. “Bangladeshi rickshaws will be thrown off the highway.”
While international companies motivated by profit may be crucial in addressing global poverty, he said, nations must also cultivate grassroots enterprises and the human impulse to do good.
Challenging economic theories that he learned as a Ph.D. student at Vanderbilt University, in Nashville in the 1970s, he said glorification of the entrepreneurial spirit has led to “one-dimensional human beings” motivated only by profit.
Dr. Yunus, 66, then took a direct jibe at the United States for its war on terror, telling about 1,000 dignitaries at Oslo's City Hall that recent American military campaigns in Iraq and elsewhere had diverted global resources and attention from a more pressing project: halving worldwide poverty by 2015, as envisaged by the United Nations six years ago.
“Never in human history had such a bold goal been adopted by the entire world in one voice, one that specified time and size,” he said. “But then came Sept. 11 and the Iraq war, and suddenly the world became derailed from the pursuit of this dream.”
He said terrorism cannot be defeated militarily and the concept of peace requires broadening. “Peace should be understood in a human way, in a broad social, political and economic way,” Dr. Yunus said.
He called for legal recognition of a new category of corporation that would be neither profit-maximizing nor nonprofit. It would be a “social business,” like Grameen Bank, the Dhaka-based microcredit institution he started 30 years ago. The bank has lent nearly $6 billion to help some of the poorest people on earth to start businesses, build shelters and go to school.
Grameen Bank — with which Dr. Yunus shared the prize today — is an interest-charging, profit-making business with more than 2,200 branches. But it is owned primarily by its poor clients and run for their benefit. Similarly structured institutions, he said, could bring health care, information technology, education and energy to the poor without requiring infusions of aid.
“By defining ‘entrepreneur' in a broader way, we can change the character of capitalism radically and solve many of the unresolved social and economic problems within the scope of the free market,” he said.
He traveled to Oslo with nine of the bank's board members. Four of them are among Bangladesh's nearly 300,000 “telephone ladies,” each of whom once borrowed money to buy a mobile telephone and now earns money charging rural villagers to use it.
Norwegian Nobel Committee Chairman Ole Danbolt Mjoes called microcredit “a liberating force” for women and Muslims, many of whom have traditionally shunned interest-charging institutions.
“All too often, we speak one-sidedly about how much the Muslim part of the world has to learn from the West,” said Prof. Danbolt Mjoes. “Where microcredit is concerned, the opposite is true: the West has learned from Yunus, from Bangladesh, and from the Muslim part of the world.”
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