What I Didn’t Get To Say On Bill Maher Last Night

We could have talked more (or even the whole show) about the ideas of Mohammad Yunus. His book, Creating A World Without Poverty, argues we should look beyond standard for-profit business and consider expanding the emphasis on “social business.” This – among other things – preserves investors’ capital but doesn’t aim to make it grow, while serving pressing social needs with a business-like delivery model.

Versions of these ideas came up repeatedly in a course I just finished running at MIT, with Anjali Sastry and other colleagues, in which more than 50 students put their business skills to work helping health care projects in Africa become more effective. Muhammad is definitely right that more and more business people want to get involved in this kind of social space, and many social entrepreneurs welcome input/advice/any kind of serious contribution.

Ordinarily, we might dismiss a zero real rate of return as uninteresting to anyone who has other uses for their money – but Muhammad is quite eloquent on how such an investment is complementary to seeing more in your life and in finding ways to really help others.

In addition, presumably this part of your portfolio would be pretty stable and largely uncorrelated with other investments. Perhaps, in the light of recent events, we should all consider having part of our longer-term savings in a “preservation of capital” category of assets. This is not the usual ambition that the finance industry encourages, but it may become part of sensible diversification – particularly if it enables you to help others in measurable, productive ways (and Muhammad is big on measurement and assessment of success, while recognizing it is hard in this sphere). Perhaps it even provides us with a “parachute” of perspectives, network connections, and resources that are available if our regular careers go off-track?

Actually, I didn’t get to say many other things also – in this kind of format, you have to answer the questions (pretty much) as asked and go with the flow of the conversation. Feel free to tell me what points I missed; even better if you have a succinct phrasing I can use for any future interviews.

And thanks for all the useful input that you provided in the run up to Friday evening.


The Overtime segment of the show – recording immediately after the TV broadcast – is on the web (currently here, but that’s not a permalink). For the show itself you need HBO, which will have it on-demand until July 5th.

About Simon Johnson 101 Articles

Simon Johnson is the Ronald A. Kurtz (1954) Professor of Entrepreneurship at MIT's Sloan School of Management. He is also a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, D.C., a co-founder of BaselineScenario.com, a widely cited website on the global economy, and is a member of the Congressional Budget Office's Panel of Economic Advisers.

Mr. Johnson appears regularly on NPR's Planet Money podcast in the Economist House Calls feature, is a weekly contributor to NYT.com's Economix, and has a video blog feature on The New Republic's website. He is co-director of the NBER project on Africa and President of the Association for Comparative Economic Studies (term of office 2008-2009).

From March 2007 through the end of August 2008, Professor Johnson was the International Monetary Fund's Economic Counsellor (chief economist) and Director of its Research Department. At the IMF, Professor Johnson led the global economic outlook team, helped formulate innovative responses to worldwide financial turmoil, and was among the earliest to propose new forms of engagement for sovereign wealth funds. He was also the first IMF chief economist to have a blog.

His PhD is in economics from MIT, while his MA is from the University of Manchester and his BA is from the University of Oxford.

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