Monday, October 16, 2006

Poverty, Peace, and Dr. Yunus

I agree with Shadhu’s post below that the choice of Dr.Yunus is a good one, given that the Nobel Peace Prize is really a prize for doing good. He absolutely deserves a prize for doing good.

But the more interesting issue is whether Dr. Yunus would have deserved a "Peace Prize" that was much more narrowly defined: a prize for an actual contribution to world peace. Here we enter deep waters. Suppose we agree that Grameen has lifted millions of people out of poverty; a proposition for which there is good evidence. Does reducing poverty really bolster peace?

The standard argument in favor of the proposition is that poverty breeds despair, which breeds radicalism and terrorism. Perhaps this is true. But I’m skeptical. Isn't it equally likely that the truly poor have too much to worry about in terms of putting food on the table, to be the slaves of whatever extremist ideology is in the wind? Note that all the 9-11 hijackers, and other prominent would-be terrorists of recent vintage have been relatively well-educated and well-to-do. I would be more inclined to believe that income has a “U-shaped” relationship to the probability of becoming a violent extremist. Bill Gates and a Bangladeshi landless laborer share a propensity not to blow up airplanes.

Maybe, then, the argument is that poverty encourages civil conflict and / or inter-state conflict? But the twentieth century is the bloodiest century on record. It is also, by far, the most prosperous century in the history of humankind. And within this exceptionally bloody century, the greatest bloodbaths of all—World Wars I and II—were fought among the richest nations. So the link between poverty and peace is, again, hard to discern.

1 comment:

shadhu said...

Look at however the strong correlation between violence and poverty. Poor areas in a city tend to have high crimes. You see it in Chicago, you see it in Baghdad, and you see it in the Bombay slums.