One of the arguments against the current economic system of capitalism used around most of the world is that it creates a vastly unequal distribution of wealth, which translates into a range of socioeconomic problems.
To give some perspective to the disparity of wealth distribution, a 2017 report by British charity organisation Oxfam found that the richest eight people in the world control the same wealth as the entire bottom half of the world’s population (around 3.6 billion people).
Astonishingly, there are currently 1.3 billion people (around 1 in 6) worldwide who live in extreme poverty, which is defined as those who live on US$1.25 (RM5.30) per day.
While we might think that these problems are a natural result of economic growth, the latest book by Nobel Prize-winning pioneer of micro credit, Muhammad Yunus, argues that there’s nothing natural about these trends, and that they are entirely reversible.
A World Of Three Zeros presents the case for global action through international leadership and the development of social businesses as the answer to help eradicate poverty, unemployment, and net carbon emissions.
Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his creation of Grameen Bank in Bangladesh in 1976. Since then, it has “unleashed the entrepreneurial capabilities of over 300 million people around the world”, providing an answer to the wealth creation problem that, he insists, “is an all-but-inevitable, nonstop process under the present economic system”.
In a book that’s as compelling as it is combative, Yunus insists that capitalism’s days are numbered, and that the traditional view of economics is outmoded and unsuitable for the current sociopolitical environment.
He writes, “… human beings are not moneymaking robots. They are multidimensional beings with both selfishness and selflessness…. Traditional economic thinking considers this impossible; it says that selflessness cannot be part of the business world and is only expressed in the world of charity.”
A significant factor of poverty creation is surely the conventional system of job creation which, Yunus argues, is fundamentally flawed because young people “are never told that they are all born with two choices, and that they continue to have these two choices throughout their lives: they can be job seekers or job creators – entrepreneurs in their own right.”
His book is peppered with impressive stories of social businesses that have made valuable contributions to society. One such example is the Human Harbour Corporation in Fukuoka, Japan. The enterprise recycles industrial waste, reducing pollution and environmental damage, and also employs a number of supposedly unemployable people recently released from prison. In 2016, it reached revenues of US$2.4mil (RM10mil) and currently employs 26 people, nine of whom are ex-prisoners.
As you read the book, it will not be lost on you that the issue of wealth creation and concentration is a tough nut to crack. However, it’s also difficult to think of Yunus’ vision as being impossible to realise with the help of strong and bold leadership and a global perspective shift on how business is done in the interests of the population.
There’s an infectious passion that permeates the pages of A World Of Three Zeros, and one of Yunus’ most passionate arguments is that social businesses must have environmental concerns at the heart of their mission.
As he observes, “If a social business helps reduce unemployment or enhances child nutrition, but at the same time it helps to destroy the environment … then no long-term benefit for humankind has really been created.”
Certainly, there is an urgent need for action on climate change, the consequences of which affect all areas of life across the globe. The book looks at a number of countries that have pressing concerns, such as Haiti, which, in 1923, had forests covering 60% of its land mass. Today, forests occupy a scant 2% of the nation’s land.
A World Of Three Zeros concludes with some strong calls to action and highlights some of the important work already being done by global organisations to combat the world’s most urgent problems.
For example, the United Nations has created Sustainable Developmental Goals containing 17 overarching goals. These include the endeavour to end hunger and poverty everywhere and improve nutrition and sustainable agriculture; provide full and productive employment for all; conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development; and build effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels.
But at the core of solving our most urgent problems, Yunus stresses the need for the current economic model to evolve into a more progressive, sustainable, and inclusive system that empowers everyone who is able to make use of his or her skills and abilities through entrepreneurial pursuits.
“Social business represents a crucial element in the transition from our current greed-based civilisation to a civilisation based on deeper values of sharing and caring,” he writes.
Since the problems that stem from greed and overconsumption affect us all, it’s difficult to not see the urgency of his message or be inspired by his vision.
A World Of Three Zeros: The New Economics Of Zero Poverty, Zero Unemployment, And Zero Net Carbon Emissions
Author: Muhammad Yunus
Publisher: PublicAffairs, nonfiction