Social Business – The new kind of capitalism

 “As a human, to have a job is a wrong idea. Human beings are not born to work for anyone. Human being is a complete person. Human being is a creative person. The moment one enters a job, that is the end of creativity. Job doesn’t need creativity because its driven by instructions”, remarked Professor Mohammad Yunus while addressing a gathering at the Bangalore International Centre on June 30, 2018. The Nobel laureate who was in the city owing to the 8th Social Business Day was speaking about the concept of Social Business and a world of three Zeros- Zero Poverty, Zero Unemployment, and Zero Net Carbon emissions.

“The world today is like a ticking time bomb, full of acute issues and heading towards a path of disaster”, said Professor Yunus. According to him, there are three major problems which should be addressed immediately to stop the impending disaster.

1) Wealth Concentration

Today, 1% of the people own 99% of the world’s total wealth. The next year will be worse with less than 1% owning more than 99% of the total wealth. There are many statistics that float around. For instance, 8 people of the world own more wealth than the bottom 50% of the world put together. Five years ago, it was 268 people owning more than the bottom 50% of the world. If you take India, 1% of Indians own more than 73% of the country’s wealth. In the US, Walmart family owns wealth equivalent to the bottom 40% of the country. We should be aware that high growth rate of the economy means a higher concentration of wealth in fewer hands. This is an obscene and explosive situation, as per the Professor. If this continues, human beings might not survive this century. The increasing greed will lead to more conflicts and disaster.

2) Environmental Issues

Professor Yunus insisted that if we fail to bring the net carbon emission to down to zero by 2040 or in the worst scenario by 2050, then there is no returning back. We are headed to a sure shot destruction.

3) Artificial Intelligence

Technology is a wonderful thing and is a great blessing. Technology can make things happen but it can also be a curse if not handled with care. The onus is on us to decide if it should be a blessing or a curse. We do not have any guiding principles for technology and today it has become more important to draft them. Without these principles, it is possible we will make a curse out of technology. Artificial Intelligence is good news to the world because it makes things easier for us. However, it is great news for the profit makers because the cost of production will go down and profit margin will go up. They will certainly put Artificial intelligence to work. The upshot of it is that people will be out of their jobs quickly. The signs are very clear that a massive number of people can potentially become unemployed. On questions of how to deal with this unemployment, one idea that floats around is the concept of universal basic income to be arranged by the government. Professor Yunus said, he can’t take that situation because it makes human beings beggars. Human beings are meant to take care of ourselves and others. That is our creative power. Today AI generated journalism is getting awards and AI written books are best sellers already.  He wondered what would happen when AI surpasses human intelligence? He believes that AI might look at human being as some kind of dumb and worthless creatures. He also questioned what if AI decides to clean the human beings off the planet? So, he is convinced that it is good time now to define what should be the limit of technology. No technology that is harmful to people or planet should be developed. Just because people have the ability doesn’t mean they should create them. We already did that with nuclear weapons and AI can be worse than the nuclear weapon.

All these issues are happening because we created a civilization that is greed based and an economic system which is like a sucking machine. Our society currently looks like a mushroom. The head of the mushroom representing 1% is sucking it all from the stem representing 99%. So, the head is growing and the stem is diminishing in size, which will eventually lead to the collapse of the entire thing. Where did we go wrong? Professor Yunus said it all comes from the interpretation of human beings by the capitalist theory. The capitalist theory assumes that human beings are driven by self-interest. That according to him is the core of the problem because that is a miserable interpretation of human being as a smaller entity. The essence of human being is ‘empathy’ and the economic theory we swear by has painted the wrong picture of real human beings. Real human beings have two essential elements – selfishness and selflessness. But the capitalist theory ignored the selflessness part. If included, it changes the whole picture.

It’s one’s choice to decide how much of selfish-business and selfless business one should do. Professor Yunus said, every time he saw a problem, he responded to it with a business solution, that is selfless. Unlike charity which gives away money without any return, he created social businesses that return the money back and does the same work as charity. The money that comes back is powerful because it can be invested back into the social business. More than 60 such businesses were created in Bangladesh and some of them were nationwide businesses addressing various issues like healthcare, energy efficiency etc. The professor also explained how about 4 million households took to solar energy from traditional fuel-based energy.  According to him, since social business means not taking the profit back, it can help address the problem of wealth concentration.

In his concluding remarks, the Professor emphasized that the individual is the power. We do not need the country or organizations like the UN to solve the problems. We as individuals can bring about a change if we can put our mind to it. Whatever we want to do with our life will decide the purpose of life. He also insisted that the word ‘retirement’ must be retired. It gives an impression, that after a certain age you are no longer needed. Human beings never stop being creative until their last breath. So instead of calling it retirement, he suggested that we use Phase 1 and Phase 2 of our lives. “Phase 1 is the part where one is busy with oneself, doing things to take care of themselves and secure their future. Phase 2 is the freedom phase where one is not obliged to anyone. They bring their creative power into hand and do whatever they want to do for the world. When should this Phase 2 begin is a personal decision”, said Professor Yunus.

The Q&A session saw some of his audience, not quite agreeing with him on his take on Artificial Intelligence and about how we have been doing good with the Sustainable development goals etc. In his response to the questions and disagreements, Professor Yunus went on to explain about the transformation in energy consumption in rural Bangladesh,’ the giving pledge’ etc. and insisted that we could and should do better than that.

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