Monday, December 4, 2017

A world of three zeros

We in the rich part of the world don't usually seek advice from poorer parts of the world, but Mohammad Yunnus, the Nobel Peace prize winner from Bangladesh has good credentials.   To some he might seem naive, but in fact he has operated under very difficult circumstances and accomplished what some feel are miracles.

Yunnus was educated inn Bangladesh and the United states becoming  teacher and at one point saw a need of poor women in rural Bangladesh.  Using his resources he started loaning small amounts of money with no collateral.  He established the Grameen Bank in 1983 and it has been replicated in over 100 countries  Surprisingly the rate of re-payment was over 97%.  It turned around local economies and over time got global attention.

Capitalism is worshipped by many people, but if we are honest it has problems.  Under its frame it is inevitable that despite all efforts to restrain it, it leads to income inequality.  It is not hard to see why when you consider that rich people tend to set the rules, a process you can witness with the United States Congress.  It is true that in general most people are better off than people of a century ago, but the gains have been very uneven and many would argue not as closely linked to merit as would be ideal.  Yunnus doesn't think the problem is so much distribution as underlying premises.

One of the academic foundations of capitalism is "The Wealth of Nations" by Adam Smith, written in 1776.  It rationalizes capitalism declaring it is only by catering to the will of what people want that gives us the beauty of free market business.  Not noted as much is another book by the same Adam Smith, "The Theory of Moral Sentiments."  Yunnus quotes Smith, "How selfish soever man may be supposed there are evidence some principles in his nature which interest him in the fortunes of others and render them happiness necessary to him though he drivers nothing from it, except the pleasure of seeing it."  Self interest is too often interpreted to mean profit or selfishness, but could be expanded to include our long term collective happiness.

The three zeros that form the author's goal are zero poverty, zero unemployment and zero net carbon emissions.  Might seem the goals are in conflict, the author maintains they reinforce one another.

Social business is defined as meeting a need, developing sustainability, but not great profits.  Sustainability is necessary and Yunnus discusses some examples of how has worked.  One project was Haiti Forest to remedy the great need for forestation.  Money was brought in by the Clinton foundation and Branson Virgin Unite, but is generating benefits through jobs and an improved environment.  They plant one million trees per year.

Another project was in Colombia and involved McCain noted for potatoes in Canada.  One concern was the number of potatoes that were misshapen and ended up being wasted.  Researchers looked for ways to turn these ugly vegetables into something useful  One solution was to use them for soup.

Good governance is essential.  One function Yunnus feels is credible elections.  Criteria should be set up and might be enforced by the United Nations.  Some nations have already sought the services of groups such as the one started by Jimmy Carter that give their election greater acceptance.

Corruption is identified as a critical obstacle.  Yunnus posits that transparency engineered with technology is one tool and another is education.  I think both ideas have merit, but corruption is very basic to humans.  A movie has dealt with the inevitably of corruption and also one hero's solution.  You might want to explore the notion:

Yunnus feels the future will be shaped by today's youth, many of whom reject both capitalism and socialism.  They are better educated, diverse and globally connected.  The poor will have to be involved.  Almost always they are at the end of technological developments

The purpose of life on this planet is not merely to survive, but live in it with grace, beauty and happiness.  It is up to us to make it happen.  We ca create a new civilization based not on greed, button the full range of human values.  Let's begin to-day."

John Maynard Keynes once said that the only purpose (of economics) is so that people could live "wisely, agreeably and well." He didn't restrict that to the rich, but felt income inequality was part of the problem. One of his most famous quotes is " the long run we are all dead."  Read more about Keyes at:

To me an economic system has to be based on human nature and human aspirations.

Ayn Rand is often thought of as the high priestess of selfishness, but she did make one point I agree with which is that we should think long term more than short term of our interests.  Unfortunately I don't believe she thought about it in enough depth.

I do recommend the book. There are lots of ideas and experiences to ponder.   If such ideas are not examined and discussed there is little hope for humankind.

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