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How Science Fiction Should Shape Finance, According to a Nobel-Winning Economist

Among all impossible fictions, the complete elimination of poverty is the one that is closest to reality for Muhammad Yunus. “We are so preoccupied with making money that we are not paying attention to the world,” he told me during a conversation in São Paulo. “We must redefine everything; bring poverty down to zero.”

Yunus was the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. The 75-year-old Yunus is the father of microcredit, the practice of lending small amounts of money to people living in extreme poverty. Beginning in a small village in Bangladesh, the method aided in the reduction of poverty in the south Asian country. It was formalized under the name Grameen Bank. Yunus calls the concept a “social business”—one that “operates for the benefit of addressing social needs that enable societies to function more efficiently.”

“In charity, money goes out and never comes back. In social business, the money comes and goes,” he said.

With an almost blind faith, the economist sees technology as a panacea. Cellphones can be vital allies for the maintenance of public health, and platforms such as Google and Facebook can be reinvented towards less money-grubbing oriented goals. “It’s like a car. It doesn’t go where it wants to. The driver is the one who guides it,” he said. “If he wants to go up a mountain, the car will do it; if he wants to go by the sea, the car will do it. The concentration of income will increase if technology continues to serve the rich and powerful.”

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