On Jan 17 I attended a lecture in San Francisco given by Bangladeshi-born Muhammad Yunus. He is the economist who invented the idea of microlending to help desperately poor people around the world better their lives through developing small businesses. In 1983, he founded the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh to put the concept into practice. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 and remains a popular figure among anti-poverty activists.
The crowd must have been around 500, and I was therefore pleased when my immigration-related question was one of the handful chosen to be read.
When I wrote my article that included mention of the speech (Microlending: The Ticket to Staying Home), the audio file was not yet online so his exact words weren`t available. You can now listen to the whole talk online at this link.
Here is my transcription of the question and Yunus` answer, with a little clean-up editing:
COMMONWEALTH CLUB: A member of the audience asks this question. With five billion people living in countries poorer than Mexico, don`t you think microlending is a better strategy for tackling poverty than massive immigration…
YUNUS: People seek their opportunities if you can attract people with microcredit, keep them in their places, of course they will love that.
It`s not fun to leave your home and struggle through all kinds of legal barriers, live like thieves and criminals in another country.
[Immigration] is no fun. They do it out of desperation because life is so difficult there, So if we can all make life better where people live, where they were born, where their forefathers lived, then nobody will leave their place.
That`s what we`re talking about. Wherever we are, we should be able to get a better life for ourselves. Desperation will push us to do desperate things even at the risk of our own lives.
Furthermore, he alluded to the cultural dimension, that people would rather remain in their forefathers` country than undergo the shock of adjustment to a different society, as long as they can make a decent living and have hope for their children.
The next time some shallow do-gooders whine that America must open itself up to unlimited poor immigrants because we have too much money (heh), you can quote Muhammad Yunus to them.