The poor we have always with us, and the purpose of the Lord in providing the poor is to enable us of the better classes to amuse ourselves by investigating them and uplifting them and at dinners telling how charitable we are. The poor don't like it much. They have no gratitude. ... But if they are taken firmly in hand they can be kept reasonably dependent and interesting for years."
-- Sinclair Lewis in the short story "Things", first published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1919
So this time a really deserving person won the Nobel Peace Prize. Muhammad Yunus and his micro-capitalism (though the newsies & punditry much prefer the term "micro-credit") promoting bank Grameen Bank have helped untold thousands get out of destitution and into the small business and trades class. I have a soft spot for this program, because it has the same philosophy if not quite the same financial arrangements as Habitat for Humanity: a hand up, not a handout. What could be better than, quietly and without a big publicity airhorn, helping people become productive stakeholders in their own societies? Well, if that detracts from the ego massage of bleeding hearts who would rather keep the Third World poor as mascots, who view them as an anonymous mass of little brown people, as simple symbols of Western sin, plenty. "Microcredit is a good thing, but it is nowhere near a panacea for global poverty" harrumphs Daniel Davies in--where else?--The Guardian.
"The main effect of the microfinance revolution has been the rebranding of agricultural development banks as "Microlenders". This has happened because although a loan to buy a tractor or provide working capital for a harvest season isn't microcredit, calling it microcredit will bring in a lot more grant money. That's probably good news, because agricultural development banks usually do good work."
There's also some economic counter-theorizing presented, appealing to that profound reader of human nature, John Kenneth Galbraith. Something about giving development aid only to people who don't plan on remaining stuck in poverty. Mr. Davies "suspects" that Grameen's impact has been largely on those people who were just barely on the good side of hopelessness.
Well, I don't know if Mr. Yunus's vision has any overtly spiritual aspect. But I have seen up close how hopelessness can be turned into hope. The human spirit can be broken, and few things do a more merciless job of that than grinding poverty. People forget, if indeed they ever even knew, that a better life is possible. But, somebody has to revive their spirits, give them inspiration along with information. They turn themselves from dead-enders into people with hope. And no sociological study is ever going to be able to accomodate its pigeonholes, to track the transformation.
Thomas Sowell once said that anything can be termed a success if judged by low enough standards, just as anything can be termed a failure if judged by high enough standards. Our Guardian pundit is in danger of being guilty of the latter fault. Mr. Yunus can answer his critics with the words of Thomas Carlyle:
Between vague wavering Capability and fixed indubitable Performance, what a difference!
--Sartor Resartus, 1833