Saturday :: Mar 29, 2008

Hillary Clinton and Microfinance

by eriposte

Frenchdoc at Correntewire recently published a review on a recent book by 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of the Grameen Bank - Mohammad Yunus. Frenchdoc titled the post thusly:

Book Review - Creating a World Without Poverty (Why HRC Should be President)

Frenchdoc says (emphasis mine, throughout this post):

When she was first lady of Arkansas, Hillary Clinton did not just organize tea parties (contrary to what passes now for “common knowledge”). She had heard of a Bangladeshi economist who had introduced a great idea to help people out of poverty in Bangladesh and she thought his ideas might help the poor in Arkansas. The economist was Muhammad Yunus and the idea was microcredit. She was instrumental in introducing Yunus to Bill Clinton and they developed a program of microcredit in Arkansas. Yunus mentions her in every one of his books (with photos).

This is why I want Hillary to be president. Because I want a president with intellectual curiosity, looking around the world for the next good idea to solve problems. So, here it is, the shamefully long review of Yunus’s latest book.

As I have gone beyond the media and blogosphere filter and discovered the real Hillary Clinton over the last half a year or so, it is these kinds of things that keep increasing my admiration for her. As you look at her record of public service, one thing stands out time and again - she has been tireless in finding ways to help the downtrodden, especially women and children, and has often been way ahead of the curve in driving for positive change (her fight for universal healthcare when many of her opponents were barely even intrigued with the concept is another good example). If there is one type of personality that I have been extremely impressed with in life, it is the person who is routinely ahead of the curve, in a positive way, in driving needed change. In this context, I always find it interesting when some people favorably cite Sen. John Edwards' more recent focus on poverty (not to minimize his great work in any way) but fail to realize that addressing poverty has been a key focus of Sen. Clinton's life for decades (you can therefore only imagine my consternation - to put it mildly - when Sen. Edwards tried to portray her as the candidate of status quo and himself as the candidate of change). From what I've seen and read about her, Sen. Clinton really embodies the kind of personality who isn't content with talk and is fairly impatient about exploring every viable idea and getting things done to drive significant and positive change in people's lives. You can see this reflected again and again even in her foreign travels. For example, back in 2005, Anthony Eksterowicz and Glenn Hastedt published a paper "The Foreign Policy Activism of First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton" at the annual meeting of the Southwestern Political Science Association. It is a very long paper, but here is a segment that relates a bit to Frenchdoc's comments:

Her diplomacy also highlighted the blurring of the boundary between domestic and foreign policy. The issues Hilary Rodham Clinton chose to stress were those which have long been a staple of American domestic politics: health, children, education, and the position of women in society. She saw them as key to America and the world’s future as well. “In the new global economy, individual countries and region would find it difficult to make economic or social progress if a disproportionate percentage of their female population remained poor, uneducated, unhealthy and disenfranchised. The first lady also recognized that differences in the two spheres of action, domestic and foreign, continued to exist. At one point in her memoirs she noted “my message abroad carried few of the political overtones of my proposals for specific policies at home.


We can also see the first lady breaking free of the American experience in her diplomacy in at least two respects. First, her definition of women’s rights clearly extended beyond the political and legal. Second, the solutions to the problems she identified were not seen as “foreign policy” solutions in a narrow sense but solutions that held relevance for the United States as well. Long ago, while Bill Clinton was governor of Arkansas she had seen Microcredit projects such as those she toured in Bangladesh as having relevance for helping poor rural communities in that state. A trip to Nicaragua brought attention to “Mothers United,” a microcredit organization that was supported by USAID. It also brought forward a parallel with the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund that she had advocated creating in 1994 to provide financial assistance to distressed areas that were not being serviced by the established banking system. A visit to an AIDS Information Center in Uganda brought forward the revelation that this organization supported by USAID had pioneered tests at the clinic that were already being put to use in the United States. A final example comes from a trip to China where she saw parallels between the Center for the Women’s Legal Studies and Legal Studies of Beijing University with a small legal aid office she had run at the University of Arkansas.

In an interesting interview late last year, President Clinton made a brief mention of Sen. Clinton's efforts in Arkansas:

Charlie Rose: Muhammad Yunus has brought a lot of attention to microfinance and got a Nobel Prize. Tell me, when you look at it, how effective is it? And how much is it spreading?

Bill Clinton: First, it is almost universally effective where it's done based on the same model that he and other big givers in Bangladesh have used. That is, where you realize you may be dealing with people who never have a balance sheet, but they have a good reputation in the community, you know they have a skill, and there is clearly a market for what they want to do. In the early '80s, the South Shore Bank in Chicago, now called Shore Bank started loaning -- make microcredit loans by American standards to black carpenters and Croatian electricians to work together to retrieve the South Side. Hillary found out about this and talked to me, and she went out and raised some money to create a rural microcredit bank in Arkansas, do the same thing with the same results. It's still in place. Then when I became president, we gave two million microcredit loans a year overseas, and gave the first microcredit programs funding in America. It always works. Now, can it make a difference? It depends on whether they're concentrated enough. I think in Bangladesh, the Grameen Bank and others have been giving money now for 30 years so that the volume of loans is so great now, I think it's making a measurable contribution to the economy.

Charlie Rose: Has moved beyond just loans to women.

Bill Clinton: Yeah. But even though -- women are still the primary recipients, when there are so many of them have been made, that the various examples of economic growth have a synergy, they're working together. My only evidence of this, is that in the last couple of years, Bangladesh has had one political crisis after another, the kind of thing that tanks the stock market, you know.

Charlie Rose: -- run for prime minister and then backed off.

Bill Clinton: Yeah. But, in spite of all this trouble, their economies still continue to grow about six or seven percent a year, unheard of. I think it's because it's growing through the grass roots, through the interlocking networks of microcredit entrepreneurs. So I saw when I was president that we changed the reality of life for a lot of villages in Africa and Latin American and Asia. But we would have to give 20 or 30 million microcredit loans, not two million to change a country.

As Leah points out in a comment to Frenchdoc's post:

And you are absolutely right that both Clintons were among the first to notice the import of what [Yunus] was doing.

Not to drag you into the truly demoralizing schisms being opened up between the two competing campaigns in the Democratic primary, but an irony I think you’ll appreciate: When Bill Clinton was running in 1992, “Rolling Stone” did a joint interview with him, sending down William Greider, generally known as a liberal progressive, and presently a true Clinton hater, (see this post if you’re interested), along with a companion regular contributor at the magazine, P.J. O’Roarke, who is known as a witty right-winger.

The entire interview was bathed in condescension, but my favorite moment came when Clinton talked excitedly about new ways of thinking about poverty and in particular the import of micro-credit; in the interview Clinton mentions [Yunus] and Bangladesh, to the merriment of both O’Roarke and Greider; wow, imagine anything coming out of Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries in the world that could be of use to Americans. Yes, that was pretty much the tenor of the entire article.

I happened to know a lot about [Yunus] and what he had shown about the impact of extensions of micro amounts of credit to poor folks, so I knew that the true fools were both Greider and O’Roarke, but I’m sure I was among a tiny minority of the readers of the interview.

I’ll tell you what most of Washington players hate about the Clintons, including a lot of progressives like Greider, and God help us, Barbara Ehrenreich; they’re both as smart, or perhaps even smarter than our elite liberals, and yet they are smarmy politicians who actually win elections, and then actually did something about poverty in this country, for the first time since the Johnson administration, and don’t let anyone tell you that Richard Nixon cared about poverty, or that he ever put forward a serious plan for family subsidies, an oft repeated talking point to make out Nixon as more liberal than the Clintons.

Interestingly, Mohammad Yunus himself politely mentions the insufferable, know-nothing elite snobs of the media and so-called "liberal" establishment (in this case, Rolling Stone) that Leah talks about, in his previous book "Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty". In chapter ten of his book, in page 181, he writes:

The Good Faith Fund slowly grew to reach hundreds of low-income people in Arkansas. When Clinton ran for President, he often used it as an example of a successful, innovative means to fight poverty....

During a 1992 interview with the editors of Rolling Stone magazine, Clinton spoke particularly fondly about Grameen. In a separate article, two of the editors ridiculed him for being too ready to promote micro-credit in the United States. I was disappointed but an American friend explained that Rolling Stone's reaction was hardly surprising. He argued that Grameen was a "Third World technology transfer" and that the American elite might not be ready for it.

The American elite - especially the fake "liberal" elite that includes people like Frank Rich, Maureen Dowd, David Broder, Chris Matthews, and too many more to count, especially on the internet these days - have long had a deep seated contempt for people like Bill and Hillary Clinton and Al Gore (more on that in a future post). That contempt continues even today - both among a body of alleged "liberals" and the corporate media they have become organs of. Melissa McEwan at Shakesville (emphasis hers):

And the race to the bottom continues…as the LA Times weighs in with its solid conclusions about Hillary Clinton's time as First Lady, based on 11,000 pages made public less than 36 hours ago. Diminishing the veracity of her touted experience, the writers note:

As for overseas travel, the papers show that Clinton did spend some time conferring with foreign leaders on strategic issues. But the records suggest she spent a lot more time fulfilling the traditional role of the first lady: meeting the leaders' wives and focusing on women's and children's issues.

And no one who's serious about being the American president would do something so frivolous as to focus on women's and children's issues! That's not real politics. Why, she might as well have been playing with dollies!

The contempt for "women's and children's issues" could not be more palpable.


UPDATE: I just noticed Frenchdoc has posted more on HRC and microcredit and additional excerpts from Yunus' book - see this post: "Why Hillary Should Be President (WHSBP) - Untold Stories".

P.S. Microcredit is a very complex topic and its success or failure is dependent on many geographic and cultural factors. What I'm focusing on here is the vision and drive of the Clintons in their attempts to find and adopt newer ways to bring positive change (the Clinton Foundation being just one example of a vehicle for their efforts). This doesn't mean every one of their ideas or initiatives was as successful as they wanted it to be. You can read detailed articles/research papers on the successes and failures of microfinance and Good Faith Fund here and here if you are so inclined.

eriposte :: 9:30 AM :: Comments (33) :: Digg It!