Dr. Muhammad Yunus, accepting his Nobel Peace Prize, gave a stirring speech today detailing how to fight poverty effectively. He has demonstrated, through his work with the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, that the poor, if given half a chance, will work to better themselves and their community. Contrast this to most middle to upper-class American’s viewpoint, which will be something to the tune of “poor people are poor because they are lazy, stupid, etc.” As in, poor people deserve to be poor. Dr. Yunus, on the other hand–obviously an enlightened human being, as opposed to most middle to upper-class Americans–states, “Poverty is created because we built our theoretical framework on assumptions which under-estimates human capacity . . . Poverty is caused by the failure at the conceptual level, rather than any lack of capability on the part of people.” Yes. His words come from the depths of understanding, compassion, and everyday connection with the struggles of poverty.
Dr. Yunus also clarifies some ideas on capitalism which I had been moving towards as my social awareness has been expanding bit by bit. He states that our current conception of capitalism and business “originates from the assumption that entrepreneurs are one-dimensional human beings, who are dedicated to one mission in their business lives — to maximize profit. This interpretation of capitalism insulates the entrepreneurs from all political, emotional, social, spiritual, environmental dimensions of their lives. This was done perhaps as a reasonable simplification, but it stripped away the very essentials of human life.
Human beings are a wonderful creation embodied with limitless human qualities and capabilities. Our theoretical constructs should make room for the blossoming of those qualities, not assume them away.
Many of the world’s problems exist because of this restriction on the players of free-market. The world has not resolved the problem of crushing poverty that half of its population suffers. Healthcare remains out of the reach on the majority of the world population. The country with the richest and freest market fails to provide healthcare for one-fifth of its population.
We have remained so impressed by the success of the free-market that we never dared to express any doubt abqut our basic assumption. To make it worse, we worked extra hard to transform ourselves, as closely as possible, into the one-dimensional human beings as conceptualized in the theory, to allow smooth functioning of the free market mechanism.”
How simply and pointedly stated. He very clearly explicates the issues surrounding poverty without getting bogged down in political or theoretical constructs. The fact is that our current definition of capitalism and human capability is extremely one-sided, and it’s destroying the entire world. Yunus also brings out a key element of poverty: that “poverty is a threat to peace.” That when people live in squalor with no immediate or visible means of escape, they will turn to terrorism, theft, and rage. That as long as we have those who have and those who have not, then we will have warfare.
Finally, Yunus offers a vision of humanity that is filled with hope. He obviously believes in the power of the human mind to create whatever it desires. He states that “we create what we want: we get what we want, or what we don’t refuse. We accept the fact that we will always have poor people around us, and that poverty is part of human destiny. This is precisely why we continue to have poor people around us. If we firmly believe that poverty is unacceptable to us, and that it should not belong to a civilized society, we would have built appropriate institutions and policies to create a poverty-free world.” In other words, all it takes is the simple will to make the world a better place to begin making it a better place. Amen.