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January 05, 2006

So Much To Do...

Ah yes, I have been caught out already, I missed a day's post.  But perhaps sometimes I can post for 2 days at once, Karen?  Thanks for the reminder though, it's nice to know that you're looking on.

Yesterday I had a pleasant lunch shift before coming home to a long night.  I finally finished Banker to the Poor by Muhummad Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, and I highly recommend it.  Besides being an easy read and a very interesting insight into the life of someone who grew up in East Pakistan, before it became Bangladesh, was educated in the States and ended up the founder of Bangladesh's biggest bank and of "microfinance", an idea supported by the UN as an effective tool to eradicate poverty.

In fact, forgive me while I rant, but let me tack on some of my favourite excerpts from the book:

On capitalism and social-entrepreneurship, and their place in improving the world:

"Economic protectionism, subsidies, and welfare benefits were instituted by well-meaning people to soften capitalism’s hard edges.
    I believe in the central thesis of capitalism: The economic system must be competitive.  Competition is the driving force for all innovation, technological change, and improved management.
    Another central feature of capitalism is profit maximization.  Profit maximiazation ensures the optimal use of scarce resources.  This is the feature of capitalism that led us to create the image of a greedy (almost bloodthirsty) person in the role of profit maximizer.  We have presumed that the profit maximizer has no interest in achieving social objectives.  We then postulated that true entrepreneurs are a rare and special breed of people whom society should feel lucky to have.  We feel so grateful to them that we give them all the privileges we can afford – credit, social recognition, tax holidays, priority access to land, market protection, and so on.
    I am proposing two changes to this basic feature of capitalism.  The first change relates to this overblown image of a capitalist entrepreneur.  To me, an entrepreneur is not an especially gifted person.  I rather take the reverse view.  I believe that all human beings are potential entrepreneurs.  Some of us get the opportunity to express this talent, but many of us never get the chance because we were made to imagine that an entrepreneur is someone enormously gifted and different from ourselves...
     The second change relates to how an entrepreneur makes investment decisions.  Economic theory depicts the entrepreneur as only a profit maximizer.  Indeed, in some countries, like the United States, corporate law requires the maximization of profits.  Shareholders can sue an executive or a board of directors that uses corporate funds to benefit society as a whole rather than to maximize the profits of the shareholders.  As a result, the social dimension in the thinking of the entrepreneur has been completely bypassed.  For social science and society itself, this is not a good starting point.  Even if social considerations have a very small role in the investment decision of an entrepreneur, we should allow them to come into play for the overall social good.  A human being’s social considerations are qualities that can be inculcated through generating appropriate social values.  If we leave no room for them in our theoretical framework, we will be encouraging human beings to behave without respect to social values.
    The market, of course, needs rules for the efficient allocation of resources.  I propose that we replace the narrow profit-maximization principle with a generalized principle – an entrepreneur maximizes a bundle consisting of two components: (a) profit and (b) social returns, subject to the condition that profit cannot be negatives.  (Actually, neither of these components should be negatives; but I make this conceptualization in order to stay close to the existing profit-maximization principle.)
    All investment decisions can be taken within a range of options.  At one extreme, the capitalist will be guided purely by the profit motive.  At the other extreme, a social entrepreneur will continue to be in the market for as long as his or her socially beneficial enterprise is at least breaking even.
    Under this principle, a social entrepreneur could, for example, run a health-care service for the poor if it is financially viable.  Other such enterprises might include financial services for the poor, supermarket chains for the poor, educational institutions, training centers, renewable energy ventures, old-age homes, institutions for handicapoped people, recycling enterprises, marketing products produced by the poor, and so on.

And now to blow your mind, on The Future:

"If somehow we could come back to today’s world 100 years from now, we could definitely feel as if we were visitors from some prehistoric age.  If we try to imagine what the world will be like twenty-five years from today, we would have to create science fiction.
The momentum for change is clearly in place.  The insatiable quest for knowing the unknown, the eagerness of business to put technology at the service of consumers, and the military arms race between nations have all helped create this momentum.  The real question is whether these changes will bring the human race closer to or farther away from desirable social and economic conditions.
   The answer is obvious.  If we consider ourselves passengers on “Spaceship Earth,” we will find ourselves on a pilotless journey with no discernable route to follow.  If we can convince ourselves that we are actually the crew of this spaceship, and that we must reach a specific socioeconomic destination, then we will continue to approach that destination – even if we make mistakes or take detours along the way.
We need to know the destination – if not in a precise way, then at least a generalized way.  Before we actually translate something into reality, we must be able to dream about it.  Any socioeconomic dream is nothing but the first step in the process of mapping the course to our destination.  If we do a good job in identifying our destination, more innovations and changes will take place to help us reach it.
So the real question is not so much where we will be in the year 2050, but where we would like the world to be in 2050.
By that time, I want to see a world free from poverty.  This means that there will not be a single human being on this planet that may be described as a poor person or who is unable to meet his or her basic needs.  By then, the word “poverty” will no longer have relevance.  It will be understood only with reference to the past.
Poverty does not belong in civilized human society. 

At each step, future information and communication technology should be creating a global environment to unleash the creativity, ingenuity, and productivity in every human being.  Any person anywhere should be able to enroll in any academic institution on the basis of his or her interest and ability, irrespective of his or her social upbringing, geographic location, or financial capacity.
The entire concept of an academic institution would also be vastly different from what it is today.  In such an environment, it would not be surprising to learn that the most creative student in a very prestigious university comes from a poor family in a remote village in China, or Ethiopia, or Bangladesh – and that she or he has never yet visited at town.
Another “access” I would like to see is access to the market: I would like to see all barriers and protections around world markets disappear.  Protectionism is built up in each nation in the name of the poor, but its real beneficiaries are the rich and clever  people who known how to manipulate the system.  By contrast, the poor have a better chance in a bigger open market than in a smaller protected market.  Everyone would benefit from the free flow of commodities, finances, and people.
It does not make sense to build high walls around the borders of our countries.  Passports and visas are a twentieth-century phenomenon that did not really exist before that.  Let us leave them behind with the century that invented them.  Let us take pride in our human identity above all other identities.  Let us wave our national flags, celebrate our regional, national, racial, local, religious, political, and cultural identities, but not by offending the unity of humankind, strengthened and enhanced through the friendly competition of cultures, religions, and other diversities.
Needless to say, technology as well as economic necessity is bringing us closer to this borderless, distanceless world.  Let us welcome it with applause."

I know, that was long.  But you needed to read it.  This guy has already changed parts of the world, and he is inspiring to read.  His book is only 250 pages long, I really recommend reading it.

In other news... (let me just step down from my soapbox)... I had a very busy evening last night turning myself into a paperless person, I am now going to operate only from my computer and rid myself of the desire to jot down notes on paper and flip through pages to organise my thoughts.  It is soooo1990s, dude.  And unnecessary.  It's just changing the way you think about things.  So my bookmarks (on my internet browser, of course, what did you think I was referring to, like, actuall "book"marks?) are totally organised and I've organised the piles of crap which has accumulated on my hard-drive.  (How techno-savvy do I sound?)  Reading Yunus' book was really inspiring and I'm so excited to get ready for Africa.

This morning I was up early ( a trend lately, can't sleep much because I've got so much going on in my brain) and working on my computer before J went to work at the cheese shop.  I was due at work at 6pm but they sent me home after half an hour as it was too quiet, and I've got all of tomorrow off too.  Today I was focussing on our money stuff, and I'm organising our investments and moving some things around.  I'm so relieved to have finally gotten to it, this has been one of those jobs that has been kicking around for months, but we've had some hiccups in terms of some money movements which has made things very frustrating.  Hence, Jeremy and I now officially hate Bank of America and love Charles Schwab.  Charles Schwab has the best website where you can buy your stock, mutual funds, cds or even a family pet (just kidding) all online with heaps of information to help educate you about it all if you're like me and are studying Investing for Dummies (that's not even a joke, I really am.)  So hopefully by tomorrow we'll have just about finished moving everything over there, and will place our first trades (yay!) towards becoming as rich as Howard Stern is now.  I'm really excited about it, the stock market and all of that has always fascinated me, mainly just because I don't understand it at all, and Charles Schwab even does investment training sessions online over webcast which I can't wait to join in.  Will let you know how it goes.  Jeremy has already suggested that we split some money in half and have a "friendly competition" (contradiction in terms as far as I'm concerned) to see who has the best stock tips.  There's gonna be blood.

Tomorrow is another busy day, just doing jobs that we've gotta do.  Need to do some banking, see the Charles Schwab guy, Jeremy wants to go to the army disposal store and I've got some Christmas money to spend - not sure if I'll do that tomorrow or wait until I have a nice relaxing day to really make the most of it.  Might wait I think.  Need to call the African embassies about visas and catch up on some emails, the list goes on...

Oh, but it was amazing to see and hear my brother and sister-in-law over webcame last night for 2 hours, though the picture wasn't the best we did manage to see Angie's huge belly hiding a new Ramsey.  Who will it be???  What will "it" look like???  Wish I had a name to call "it"!  Only a few weeks left, I'll be waiting for the phone call (and I'd better get a phonecall, not just an email)!

Bed now, I'm exhausted.  Africa is sneaking up on us so quickly.  Jeremy has been hard at work trying to find old laptops for us to take with us, and so far I think we have 2.  Hard to believe in just a month we'll be handing them over to some African person, and doing who knows what else.  Who knows...  I've just got so much to do...


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