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Monday, April 23, 2018

Putting matters in perspective

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Syed Badrul Ahsan takes a peek into some new ideas

Surely the biggest calamity of modern times was the collapse of the Soviet Union and with that the fall of socialism. And since that moment of inexplicable, sudden tragedy, capitalism has reigned supreme. That would have been quite all right had it not been for capitalism to mutate into pseudo-capitalism in those regions of the world where stark poverty and severe problems of governance happened to have been the norm. Not that in these regions governments and people were hugely enthused by thoughts of an entry into a world of riches promised by capitalism.

There were all the constraints --- the World Bank, aid with strings, the rise of globalization to the detriment of national interests and indeed internationalism --- which pushed poor societies into spheres where capitalism did not quite fit in and yet was unavoidable. After all, socialism was gone.

And communism was a lost dream. Robber barons (read Russia here) emerged from their lairs to demand slices of global wealth. It is in such light that Muhammad Yunus' new work, A World of Three Zeros, needs to be studied. Remember the time when Yunus, passionate about leading the underprivileged into the world of light, spoke of poverty one day being consigned to the museum?

Well, that has not happened. And if one were to go back to a serious study of the ways of the world since time immemorial, one would not quite be convinced that poverty could be packed away and never experienced again. Even so, in his new work, Yunus offers a fresh new take on how he observes the world around him and how he thinks it could be replaced by a new, better one.

Poverty or dealing with it certainly remains his focus, but with that he brings into the discussion certain critically related issues as unemployment and carbon emissions. The three zeros he speaks of are, therefore, all linked with the issues he tries handling in this work. He calls it the New Economics of Zero Poverty, Zero Unemployment and Zero Net Carbon Emissions. A tall order, certainly, which leaves one wondering if idealism rather than a cognizance of reality is the thought here. How pragmatic is Yunus' approach?

And let it not be forgotten that the concept of social business which Yunus and people of his line of philosophical thought have propounded in the past few years has been but a variation on capitalism. The principle has been one of a certain degree of reinvention of capitalism, to a point where people can be persuaded into thinking that capitalism does not have to be a mere question of a class of people coming by inordinate wealth at the expense of millions around the world. In other words, capitalism is today a mission with a purpose, as Yunus and individuals like him would have us know. This book can then be read with such a theme being borne in mind.

Muhammad Yunus dedicates A World of Three Zeros 'to the young generation, who will build a new civilization', which is just as well. And the young these days, do remember, are a smart and educated lot unwilling to be satisfied by things rhetorical.

The Nobel Laureate comprehends this fact, which is a good reason why in his new work he zeroes in on the aspirations of youth. No more job seekers but job creators is the theme he promotes. Yunus puts matters in perspective, in their totality, bringing into the discussion the role of technology in a transformation of lives. He calls it a liberation of all people, one that is further underscored by the key ideas of good governance and human rights. The state is thus roped into the deliberations, for good reason.

A World of Three Zeros is food for thought. To what extent Yunus' ideas can translate into reality will be a matter of academic debate, surely. But they need to be given purposeful consideration. Socialism is dead. Capitalism as it used to be is despised on a universal scale. If New Economics is the new theory out there, why not take a peek inside and see what it is all about?


The reviewer is Associate Editor of The Asian Age

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