The Wisdom of Nobel Laureates on the Streets of Ferguson, Cleveland, and NYC
Eight years ago, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank “for their efforts to create economic and social development from below” through the practice of micro-lending that they pioneered. The prize announcement went on to say that “Lasting peace can not be achieved unless large population groups find ways in which to break out of poverty. Micro-credit is one such means. Development from below also serves to advance democracy and human rights.”
Yunus was not the first to be honored by the Nobel committee for linking economics and lasting peace. George Marshall, the architect of the Marshall Plan for post-war Europe, received the 1953 peace prize. But these two — a soldier and a banker — share the same outlook on the the need to attack poverty if one seeks to build peace.
In their announcement of Marshall’s prize, the Nobel committee pointed to his famous speech at Harvard University, where he outlined the post-war program that came to bear his name:
Our policy is directed not against any country or doctrine but against hunger, poverty, desperation, and chaos. Its purpose should be the revival of a working economy in the world so as to permit the emergence of political and social conditions in which free institutions can exist. Such assistance, I am convinced, must not be on a piecemeal basis as various crises develop. Any assistance that this government may render in the future should provide a cure rather than a mere palliative.
“A working economy” is central to peace? From the Bureau of Labor Statistics yesterday:
In November, the unemployment rate held at 5.8 percent, and the number of unemployed persons was little changed at 9.1 million. Over the year, the unemployment rate and the number of unemployed persons were down by 1.2 percentage points and 1.7 million, respectively. (See table A-1.)
Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rate for adult men rose to 5.4 percent in November. The rates for adult women (5.3 percent), teenagers (17.7 percent), whites (4.9 percent), blacks (11.1 percent), and Hispanics (6.6 percent) showed little change over the month. The jobless rate for Asians was 4.8 percent (not seasonally adjusted), little changed from a year earlier. (See tables A-1, A-2, and A-3.)
The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) was little changed at 2.8 million in November. These individuals accounted for 30.7 percent of the unemployed. Over the past 12 months, the number of long-term unemployed declined by 1.2 million. (See table A-12.)
With the stock market hitting new highs, life is nice for those with hefty investment portfolios, but for blacks and the long-term unemployed (definitely NOT separate groups of people), not so much.
In Marshall’s Nobel lecture, he expanded on the thoughts expressed by the Nobel committee in their announcement of the award (emphasis added):
Tyranny inevitably must retire before the tremendous moral strength of the gospel of freedom and self-respect for the individual, but we have to recognize that these democratic principles do not flourish on empty stomachs, and that people turn to false promises of dictators because they are hopeless and anything promises something better than the miserable existence that they endure. However, material assistance alone is not sufficient. The most important thing for the world today in my opinion is a spiritual regeneration which would reestablish a feeling of good faith among men generally. Discouraged people are in sore need of the inspiration of great principles. Such leadership can be the rallying point against intolerance, against distrust, against that fatal insecurity that leads to war.
That was in 1953, where the areas of the world that concerned Marshall were overseas, but in 2014 the false promises of authoritarian leaders are visible much closer to home. See Ferguson, Cleveland, New York City, and anywhere else that the police operate with apparent impunity, and little if any accountability for the taking of black lives in the course of their official duties.
Fast forward from Marshall to Muhammed Yunus, who opened his 2006 Nobel lecture with these words:
By giving us this prize, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has given important support to the proposition that peace is inextricably linked to poverty. Poverty is a threat to peace.
World’s income distribution gives a very telling story. Ninety four percent of the world income goes to 40 percent of the population while sixty percent of people live on only 6 per cent of world income. Half of the world population lives on two dollars a day. Over one billion people live on less than a dollar a day. This is no formula for peace.
The new millennium began with a great global dream. World leaders gathered at the United Nations in 2000 and adopted, among others, a historic goal to reduce poverty by half by 2015. Never in human history had such a bold goal been adopted by the entire world in one voice, one that specified time and size. But then came September 11 and the Iraq war, and suddenly the world became derailed from the pursuit of this dream, with the attention of world leaders shifting from the war on poverty to the war on terrorism. Till now over $ 530 billion has been spent on the war in Iraq by the USA alone.
I believe terrorism cannot be won over by military action. Terrorism must be condemned in the strongest language. We must stand solidly against it, and find all the means to end it. We must address the root causes of terrorism to end it for all time to come. I believe that putting resources into improving the lives of the poor people is a better strategy than spending it on guns.
Peace should be understood in a human way ? in a broad social, political and economic way. Peace is threatened by unjust economic, social and political order, absence of democracy, environmental degradation and absence of human rights.
Poverty is the absence of all human rights. The frustrations, hostility and anger generated by abject poverty cannot sustain peace in any society. For building stable peace we must find ways to provide opportunities for people to live decent lives.
Peace will not come to Ferguson by spending more on guns. The frustrations, hostility and anger in Cleveland will not end through the removal of one bad apple from the police force. Peace will not come to New York City or any other city unless and until those on the underside of society are accorded the respect and rights of the elites.
Those on the underside are clearly sick of waiting for that to happen.