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Protectionist trend a 'negative sign': Nobel laureate Yunus

Peace Prize winner urges 'redesign' of financial system to spread the wealth

Muhammad Yunus speaks at a forum in Tokyo on Feb. 21.

TOKYO -- Muhammad Yunus, founder of Bangladeshi microfinance organization Grameen Bank and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, says the global trend toward protectionism is among the "negative signs" he sees worldwide and that changing the financial system is key to addressing the frustration driving that trend.

Yunus spoke with the Nikkei Asian Review and other media organizations in Tokyo on Tuesday on the sidelines of the Social Business Japan Forum, where he gave a keynote address and had a discussion with Japanese social entrepreneurs.

When asked by the press about the protectionist trend symbolized by Brexit and the election of U.S. President Donald Trump, Yunus said these are "all negative signs" and "very regressive," and that they contrasted with past movements toward global integration.

Yunus said the problem is partly the result of economic mechanisms that are "pushing all the wealth to the top." As a result, we see "1% of people owning 99% of the wealth," he said. "If that continues, people get frustrated."

He described this frustration as a "ticking time bomb." Added Yunus: "It will not disappear with one or two elections. It will continue to get worse. That may lead to more aggressive action [toward] each other."

One way to stop this damaging cycle, he said, was through a "redesign of the financial system" to "keep wealth floating for everybody." He called the current financial system "the conduit which makes all the wealth go up."

Along with overhauling the financial system, Yunus said the approach to business itself needs to be reimagined. Because economic theories interpret humans as being selfish, he said, people become "money-making robots." He said humans are not only selfish but also selfless. "We can do selfless business -- business to help others rather than make money," Yunus said. "That is what we are calling social business."

"Human beings have so many creative ideas," the Nobel laureate said. "If we use these ideas to solve problems rather than make money, then all the problems can be solved."

Yunus also questioned people's behavior toward employment. "I think the way human beings grow on this planet is as an entrepreneur." He said everyone can become an entrepreneur as long as the right financial systems are in place.

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