A World of three Zeros: The New Economy of Zero Poverty, Zero Unemployment, and Zero Carbon Emissions

By Mohammad Yunus, 2017, 288 pp., Public Affairs, 2017, ISBN-13: 978-1-5417-6792-851699

Today, Poverty, Unemployment, and Climate issue are the main challenges for governments in different parts of the world regardless of their development status. To address this, for many years, it has been a top priority of the governments, the United Nation, and other international Non-profit organizations to mitigate them from the world or at least minimize them. For instance, Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are initiatives developed by United Nations in this regard. In both initiatives, all the mentioned issues are identified as a serious issue and categorized to get eradicated from the world as soon as possible.

As a result of these pragmatic policies, a substantial improvement has been witnessed in these fields. However, still, more than 800 million people are living under poverty line income around the world. Given that the international poverty line income is set at 1.90 USD a day, regardless of the development status of the countries. Some economists believe that, besides other factors, the economic system is one of the main contributors to these issues. For these economists, the current dominant economic system (capitalism) is the culprit.

Capitalism has been criticized from various dimensions by different scholars of social science since it is birth. One of those scholars in the new era, the era of globalization, is Professor Muhammad Yunus, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his contribution to poverty alleviation. He has written several books which address the failure of the current economic system, capitalism. A World of Three Zero is one of his works which was published in 2017. This book consists of four parts, which are The Challenges, The Three Zeros, and Mega-powers for Transforming the World and Stepping Stones to the Future.

In the first part, he discusses the challenges which are borne from the current economic system, capitalism. For example, he states about wealth inequality that Many specific features of today’s financial and political landscape have contributed to the problem of wealth concentration. But the reality is that wealth concentration is all-but-inevitable, a nonstop process under the present economic system”. This means the current system is being operated on behalf of the richest individuals rather than the ordinary segments of society. A similar idea has been forwarded by the French economist, Thomas Piketty, in his book titled “Capital in the Twenty-First Century”.

Further, he speaks about another diminution of capitalism that capitalist man is against the real man which means the players of the capitalist system are motivated by maximizing their profit rather than maximizing the collective profit. He believes that this kind of selfishness is granted to the human being by the mainstream economic theories such as neoclassical economic theories. Further, the current economic growth measurement, GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is being criticized by him by stating that GDP does not and cannot tell the whole story”. This suggests that there many other activities that are produced by human beings and the GDP cannot measure them. Moreover, he talks about one of the dominant theories of capitalism, the invisible hand and he states that this theory supports the richest individual of the society and billion other individuals are too small to matter.

The second part of the book highlights three main issues the world is facing in 21th century i.e. poverty, unemployment, and carbon emission, and how the economic system contributes to the severity of issues. Yunus argues that it is the failure of the current economic system that contributed to the severity of these issues in the world. According to him, poverty is caused by the system itself, not by the people. Thus, no one can blame the poor for their condition and everyone should blame the economic system. Likewise, concerning unemployment, he states that human being is born to be creative, active, energetic, problem-solver, and always they seek creative ways to unleash his/her ultimate potential. The issue of unemployment is also created by the economic system that supports only a few job creators. It is injected into the brain of the young generation that if you do not get a university degree, you will not to be able to enter into the job markets. Here he further forwards a similar idea in-terms of environmental crisis. He expreses that “For too long, we have tolerated the persistence of poverty, unemployment, and environmental destruction, as if these are natural calamities completely out of human control, or, at best, unavoidable cost of economic growth. They are not. They are the failure of our economic system”. He supports this statement by bringing examples of pre-2008 food crisis events, financial crises of 2007/08, de-regularization of global markets, credit market crisis, and environmental crisis. According to him, all these crises are the child of the current economic system and these events affected from different angles the bottom 4 billion people who lives in the vulnerable condition in different parts of the world, particularly in low-income countries.

Part three of the book highlights several initiatives and policy suggestions to redesign the current economic system to solve the mentioned issues. One of the policy recommendations which he propose is adding social business courses in the curriculum of universities around the world. This will teach students not only to generate income and wealth but also unselfishness, generosity and enable them to think broadly. In this respect, he has listed a bunch of universities around the world where they have updated their curriculum and established Yunus Social Business Centers (YSBCs) to teach social entrepreneurship courses and undertake researches in the field. Some of these universities are Lincoln University, Becker College in Worcester, the University of California, and so on. Also, he speaks about the pragmatic role of technology to solve the aforementioned issues. He supports by providing examples of the mixture role played by ICT and Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, where the combination of both enabled millions of individuals including women to lift themselves out of poverty through micro-entrepreneurship and microloans. This indicates the integral role of Fintech in alleviation social issues, particularly poverty. However, it is worth mentioning that Yunus is not clearly positive about technology. Moreover, according to him good governance and human rights is another tool enabling the system to work for all. He believes that good governance, human rights, and economic growth/development are interconnected, achieving all these honors the principles of freedom, justice and integrity in society. To achieve this, he has forwarded several strategies which are fair and credible election, eliminating corruption, electronic government, involving ordinary individuals in the decision-making process, financial inclusion, developing rules to protect the environment and so on.

In section four of the book, He disqualifies the current legal and financial system by bringing some of the historical real examples such as the financial and economic crisis of 1997 in Southeast Asia and of 2007/08 in the US, during which numbers of highly regulated financial institutions in the US and around the world went bankrupt. By considering these events, he forwards a reform policy in respect to the legal and financial infrastructure of the society which paves the pathway towards a sustainable society with freedom of justice, equality and integrity and this will ultimately lead the entrepreneurs, housewives, young people, business leaders, community activists and scholars to involve in creating an inclusive economic system. The suggested reforms are simplifying the governing law of microfinance programs, regulatory relaxations that encourages small-scale entrepreneurship to perform in the market, regulatory waivers for poor segments of the society and redesigning the welfare and health care laws.

Overall, he has forwarded a proposal of redesigning the economic system which works for all regardless of the societal honors of the people and eliminates the issue of poverty, unemployment and environmental challenges. Based on his experiments in different parts of the world in general and Bangladesh in particular, he proposed social business/entrepreneurship which is being adapted by giants firms such as McCain, Renault, Essilor and Donone in different parts of the world. By proposing this, he is questioning the theories of Adam Smiths in economics where profit maximization is the main goal of the firms and individuals and demanding from all regulatory bodies and firms to consider the social dimension to all decision making process. Yunus believes that the old way of fighting poverty and unemployment is not an appropriate tool to minimize the level of issue. However, the model he has proposed, the social business model, is born out of the capitalist system. Some of the researchers consider that social business is an advanced form of the microcredit model and in many aspects, this has taped the poor into a debt cycle. For those who are looking for initiative ideas to change their community, the book is a good read.


Reviewed by Ahmad Jawed Zahidogli: BA in Economics (hons) from International Islamic University Malaysia, a freelance writer. Currently at Central Bank of Afghanistan. 

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