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Yunus, Economist Microloan Banker, wins Nobel Peace Prize

By: Luke Gilman | Other Posts by
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The 2006 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Muhammad Yunus, an economist and founder of the Grameen Bank, which specializes in microloans to the poor. I personally think the choice was an excellent one, though not everyone agrees.

In the stunningly asinine Losing its Lustre, The Economist ($) takes the view that the Nobel Peace Prize committee should have not given out the prize at all rather than give it to Yunus, in order to “preserve its value.” The uncredited writer argues that if the committee could not find a suitable candidate, and clearly the Economist thinks Yunus doesn’t measure up, the “brave” thing to do would be to simply declare that there was no suitable recipient and keep it’s money. It mentions several instances in which the award was or should have been withheld. The Economist somehow fails to mention that one of the 19 instances in which the award was withheld was in 1948, on the grounds that “there was no suitable living candidate.” That also happened to be the year Mahatma Gandhi died, never receiving the prize despite having been nominated 5 times. Bravery? Hogwash.

Yunus, who shares the prize with his organization, Grameen Bank, is an excellent and refreshing choice, one which the Economist, of all publications, should recognize. Microlending enables the poor to become the agents of their own upward mobility by providing much needed capital in a way that turns the traditional benevolent condecension of charity on its head. It recognizes that an impoverished community is nevertheless a market with inherent worth. It operates with an efficiency driven from the bottom up rather than the top down, which economists, of all people, can appreciate. As this years press release notes, “Lasting peace can not be achieved unless large population groups find ways in which to break out of poverty.” The Dalai Lama, the 1989 recipient, spoke to this in his lecture, “Peace, in the sense of the absence of war, is of little value to someone who is dying of hunger or cold.”

The problem I think many will have with awarding the prize to Yunus is that he’s a banker, and as any good bleeding-heart knows, aren’t bankers all elitist, money-hungry, penny-pinching, soulless arbiters of interest rates? Isn’t the Nobel Peace Prize reserved for activists and enlightened diplomats? Um, no. Thankfully.

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Category: do-gooding, freakin' economics


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