Monday, April 21, 2008

12. INSIGHT. Microcredit Fairy Tale


Daniel N. White is an electronic `acquaintance' who is connected because we share our common concerns around `micro-credit'. Daniel does a blue-collar job, lives in Austin, Texas and has a skeptical enquiring mind. Else, he'd not be questioning the Grameen Bank's micro-credit model of development. Having read one of my critical pieces in The Hindu (see link below), Daniel wanted some ideas for good questions to ask Nobel Laureate Mohd. Yunus, during the booksigning event at the local bookstore, BookPeople, in January 2008.

Says Daniel, `...most everybody is brainwashed by the corporate PR that passes for news these days, and most everyone will be thinking that the Grameen Bank development model is the greatest invention to come down the pike since the wheel was invented. Yunus will be getting a bunch of ignorant, kissy-assed questions, and I'd like to ask him a good hard one or two.' Daniel's report on the event, being published by Black Commentator, makes interesting reading.

Yunus the media phenomenon. Kissinger was one once, Brittney Spears is one now. The mechanism by which it is decided that you get to be/should be one is one that requires investigation, as it is a most interesting and important sociological phenomenon. I am sure I am right that Yunus' selection is in large part for his being a cheerleader for capatalism. His only selecting good-looking women in the audience to ask questions makes me wonder if he might be heading down the Brittney Spears path. Should be an interesting show if that happens!

I listened to Yunus tell his story of how he came to start Grameen Bank, and how the important thing now was that he was doing things to promote busineses with a social objective. Yunus was weak on explaining what exactly the latter concept is and how it is supposed to work. While there are success stories from Grameen's files, they are proof of nothing but the desperate crying need for capital in the third world rural sector. The drawback to microcredit is that the historical record shows these rates in aggregate over time are horribly destructive. Microcredit's track record is short; history's is long. And nobody smart bets against history.

Yunus has definitely tapped into something in the American psyche, in particular the well-intentioned white educated younger demographic's. Yunus' praise of individualistic capitalism certainly is a message that suits the stone hearts and tin ears of ruling elite America, and that accounts for much of his stateside PR. Yunus is telling us a wonderful fairy tale about how capitalism actually works if done right, and how if done right in the rural Third World it will save those people from underdevelopment and lives of hardship and misery.

In the US, people are torn by their deeply ingrained beliefs in capitalism, which we most all have due to the relentless propaganda for same that has always surrounded us in our daily lives. Most everyone knows in their heart that the large corporations run things in this country, both the economic and the political end of things, and that they are fundamentally more heartless organisations than the mafia. People want to believe the propaganda they are surrounded with, even if their own experience tells them otherwise; it is just so much easier that way.

Yunus' fable of capitalist success yielding a saved third world allows people here the luxury of believing in the fairy tale we know consciously as adults is mostly false. It saves us all a great deal of cognitive dissonance, which after all is hard work. It may not work here that well, but Yunus tells us it will work THERE, a far-away there that we know not at all, and we are happy because of it.

(Yunus picked on three good-looking women for their questions following his speech and left Daniel fuming with his question: `Dr Yunus, why is it that your 36 % interest rate (or even more) microcredit loans are going to promote rural development when historically those same interest rates destroyed small farmer landowning and turned yeoman landed farmers to landless peasants?')

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