Cultural Imperialist

"Scathing Spats on Shallow Subjects"


Fri Jul 28



Be Sociable, Share!

Teach a Man to Fish? What Kind of Job Is That?

Greg Piper

There are cynics who believe microenterprise is the equivalent to a date and a one-night stand, likening a microloan to purposely punching holes in the economic condom.

Be Sociable, Share!



Chances are you've learned about "microenterprise" in the past couple years. It's hard not to like - lend a little money to an up-and-coming business owner so they can buy equipment or materials, and make stuff their village can use. Or more likely, that Ten Thousand Villages can sell to Westerners who would rather have a "goldfish paperweight" than the perfectly good Ikea entertainment center they just put on the curb. The best part is our money completely avoids Zimbabwe's Mugabe, Equitorial Guinea's Obiang or whatever tinpot dictator the U.S. is otherwise showering with "anti-terrorism" funds and not auditing.

But there's a lingering question: Who ever sewed their way to a bigger house? (Give up, lonely women with cats.)

So you, Third World mother, couldn't feed your kids, your husband is a dissociative fugue-itive, and those promiscuous bonobos kept stealing your chickens. A microenterprise organization micro-loaned you $50 and you set up a banana stand, hearing a common Western saying that "there's always money in the banana stand." With your profits you bought a cow, an indoor coop and a new husband, like any good businesswoman. Or say Liberal Guilt International gave you startup capital to make papyrus holiday cards that show Jesus and an anthropomorphized lamb doing each other's hair/wool. Effeminate Church Market, ka-ching!

The highest aim of microenterprise, in other words, is a kick-ass farmers market, and the white man's burden is giving the world's poor a cool place to hang out on weekends.

There's nothing cool about a call center in India, or reduced U.S. tariffs on sugar from Haitian farmers. Better a chai wallah on the streets of Bangalore than an air-conditioned warehouse, right? Call me old-fashioned, but I'd rather have more macroenterprise. Even if the collateral damage is giving mustache enthusiast Thomas Friedman an opportunity for another book, tentatively titled "The World Is Big," we should seek - and vote for politicians who promise to pursue - transformational change in the world economy through open markets, the real path to prosperity for developing countries.

Let's get rid of this deeply patronizing Western habit of tossing a few bucks at those we consider precious and keeping them micro-influential. Of course opening markets will create inequality (hissing) because some people are going to build businesses and make money. But they'll also employ a lot of other people who can make a better living than their parents did toiling over the land or the loom, with its inherent risks.

You can still buy soap made of lemur musk from Madagascar (and not licensed by DreamWorks) at the church information table. Small businesses are the lifeblood of America and that's a good trend to export. But let's own up to slipping estrogen in others' economies to make our junk look bigger.

Be Sociable, Share!



One Flu Over the Macroeconomist's Nest

Jeremiah Lewis


Microenterprise. The word itself seems engendered from the start to anticipate meager results. In the world of information overload, bullish political bluster, hawkish military spending, universal health care bills, and the apparently infinite resources of Richard Branson, microenterprise seems like the lesser heard and seen brother of Mark Hamill. (If Hamill had a brother, and they were both employed as voice actors for a rejuvenation of the hit animated Batman series, Mark would reprise his role as Joker, while his brother, let's call him Skip, would probably play an insurance claims adjuster in some Gotham suburb and would never have a speaking line or even have a character to call his own. That's microenterprise to the unwashed masses.)

The concept, as laid out by corporate backers, is to extend microloans to villages, groups of people within villages, or even individuals who possess business acumen beyond the usual warlord ambitions. These microloans range from anywhere from $50 to the more expendable $10k, and are used to kickstart an enterprise--digging a well, leasing a building, installing solar panels to provide electricity--with the aim of promoting a thriving, self-sustaining economy from which others can see the fruit of success and covet it for themselves, and perhaps achieve similar results for their own burgeoning endeavors.

Vice the macroenterprise edition of this game, which involves, well corporations.Corporations claim their outsourcing and offshoring builds up local governments, fuels economic growth, encourages local participation and involvement, and of course, promotes the time-honored ideal of Helping Oneself by getting a job that pays steady, competitive wages.

How's that working out for you, Sierra Leone? Cameroon? Like a virus, macroenterprise has infected the mindset of Miltonian fau-xperts who believe no state is too big, no corporate body too invasive, and no economy too immune from its attempts to reproduce. That's just cuckoo.

Granted, India and China seem to have made the model work for them, though you have to ignore the awfully huge numbers connected to poverty, exploitation, and greed to make the math kosher. It helps to illuminate the difference between the macro and micro models. Macro gets all the press, because it's big, because by its nature it is fueled by visible results.

Microenterprises work precisely because they are small, but more importantly, are focused on the most natural and vital part of the process-the human worker. Instead of the faceless, cramped, often disease-cloaked and danger-filled labs corporations call their "shining beacons" overseas, microenterprises focus on the few to promote good in the larger sphere.

By connecting a few well-positioned but financially handicapped people dedicated to a vision and supplying a small sum of cash (which almost always translates as a large sum of money wherever they happen to be located), microenterprise financiers trust to the instinct of the entrepreneur to build their business up in ways that will work in congress with the local customs and lifestyle, instead of a behemoth's incursion into those traditions.

Now I'm not talking about patronizing our African or South American "fellow human travelers" with a few measly bucks to salve our colonial guilt or Western spiritual emptiness. There are cynics who believe microenterprise is the equivalent to a date and a one-night stand, likening a microloan to purposely punching holes in the economic condom. I see them more as helpful inoculations against the improper buildup of foreign corporate structures.

Vaccinations don't prevent you from getting the disease. But they provide you with the tools to build immunity from the inside out. Microenterprise may be the only flu shot developing nations need to survive.

Be Sociable, Share!




Leave one, Douche »

By submitting a comment here you grant Cultural Imperialist a perpetual license to reproduce your words and name/web site in attribution.

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>