Over at the NYT, John Tierney asks us to consider whether Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank really deserve the Nobel Peace Prize. Although Tierney applauds the limited benefits of Yunus’ micro-loans for alleviating poverty, he asks us.
> Has any organization in the world lifted more people out of poverty than Wal-Mart?
Tierney approvingly quotes Michael Strong, who argues that instead of receiving micro-loans to start businesses in their village:
>The best way for third world villagers to tap “the vast pipeline of wealth from the developed world,” he argued in a recent TCSDaily.com article, is to sell their products to the world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart.
If wages are the only metric in evaluating “anti-poverty” program’s contributions to peace, then the argument on the surface seems plausible. Strong and Tierney argue that rural Chinese workers who migrate to the urban areas make more money manufacturing goods for Wal-Mart than those who remain at home (Responsible for 23 billion of China’s exports out of 713 billion in 2005). Wal-Mart they argue is responsible for bringing
>Wal-Mart might well be single-handedly responsible for bringing about 38,000 people out of poverty in China each month, about 460,000 per year. (Strong)
>Most “sweatshop” jobs — even ones paying just $2 per day — provide enough to lift a worker above the poverty level, and often far above it, according to a study of 10 Asian and Latin American countries by Benjamin Powell and David Skarbek. In Honduras, the economists note, the average apparel worker makes $13 a day, while nearly half the population makes less than $2 a day. (Tierney)
>Urban workers earn about 2.5 times as much as rural workers. Even after counting the higher cost of living in urban areas, urban workers make about twice as much. (Strong)
Seems to be a compelling argument. So why wouldn’t the CEO who contribute the greatest amount of economic growth to the world economy receive the Nobel Peace prize?
Perhaps Tierney and Strong are making too much of the claim that Yunus received the prize for his successes in combatting entrenched poverty. This is, of course, how the prize has been reported in the press.
Here is the press release from the Nobel Prize Committee:
>for their efforts to create economic and social development from below. 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.
> Micro-credit has proved to be an important liberating force in societies where women in particular have to struggle against repressive social and economic conditions. Economic growth and political democracy can not achieve their full potential unless the female half of humanity participates on an equal footing with the male.
It seems clear that the committee was considering more than the contribution to wages in awarding the prize. Peace is not a matter of wages alone, but the transformation of the social conditions in which poverty is entrenched. This is not to deny that Wal-Mart also transforms social conditions and even on a much larger scale and with a faster tempo. But the judgement of the committee would seem to rest on the claim that economic and social development from below is an important component of achieving lasting peace.
The question Tierney should be asking is does Wal-Mart increase the likelihood of lasting peace? Or, is it along with a volatile globalized economy a threat to stability, human rights, the enviroment, and long term development–and therefore peace?
But even if we grant Tierney and Strong the assumption that it is likely that economic growth is a direct measure of a contribution to lasting peace, motivation is surely relevant in awarding these prizes. For Tierney and Strong effects seem to be all that matter. It is not enough for an organization to lift people out of poverty, it must presumably also be motivated by that goal to deserve the Peace Prize. A quick reading of Kant’s Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals would explain why.