Muhammad Yunus & the end of poverty

I ran across a blurb in a recent Newsweek about Muhammad Yunus, winner (with the bank he founded) of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. Guy has an interesting idea (though not original to him): give tiny loans to really poor people in order to jumpstart them out of poverty and into entrepreneurial enterprise. It makes sense; what to us in developed western nations is an insignificant amount of money can make a life-changing difference to someone who lives literally hand-to-mouth, and there are millions who live that way.
What caught my eye was his prediction – perhaps offhand – that by 2050 poverty will be eliminated, preserved only in museums. That is, of course, ridiculous. It’s a worthy goal, and he (and countless others fighting poverty on other fronts) is (are) doing worthwhile work and have my respect. But to think poverty can be eliminated in 44 years, or 440 years, is to ignore history and human nature. Not everyone who is poor is poor because of circumstance – some are poor because of bad choices, and some of those will continue to make bad choices even when given opportunity and means to make better choices. That’s just how people are.
But one can’t tell in advance how someone will use the help they’re given, and so it must be given, and given again; we must do all that we can so that by all means we may help some.

Correction, 11/26/06:
The blurb was actually in the Notebook section of Time Magazine, October 23rd, 2006. The quote: “58% of the people who borrowed from Grameen are now out of poverty. There are over 100 million people now involved with microcredit schemes. At the rate we’re heading, we’ll halve total poverty by 2015. We’ll create a poverty museum in 2030.”


2 Comments on “Muhammad Yunus & the end of poverty”

  1. byron says:

    Yes, the imperfectibility of the task of eradicating poverty is no reason to not help one’s neighbour, including those neighbours who live a little further down the street/globe.

    I’ve heard of this idea too through the work of Opportunity International – I have a friend who works for them in India.

  2. Ken says:

    But we’re at the end of history! And the singularity is near! I’ve heard of this guy (probably on NPR or something) and I actually buy his arguments.

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