Grameen Goes American, or, We Are the Third World

Music can be a powerful force for evoking the spirit of the age. According to legend, in 1781 at Yorktown the British marked their surrender to the colonial army by playing "The World Turned Upside Down." The 1960s, of course, were "The Age of Aquarius," and in the 1990s Jesus Jones' "Right Here, Right Now" became the West's pop anthem, as the world woke up from history to the promised new millennium of free market democracy.

The collapse of capitalism has yet to produce its theme song, but for inspiration we need only look back a generation to the 1980s, when rock musicians  joined together in charitable fundraisers such as "We Are The World."  Building on the foundation laid by Harry Chapin, We Are The World was a way for people who lived in well-off countries to use song sales and concerts to raise money for people in living in poverty--somewhere else.

Now the West is wondering how to help the poor within its midst and the so-called Third World is coming to its aid.  To get a sense of how much has changed since the crowning of the U.S. as the world's sole surviving superpower, check out this CNN feature on the work of Grameen America in New York City, part of a flurry of news stories sparked by Grameen Bank's plans to expand its presence in the United States.

Perhaps the most telling: this editorial in the Philippine BusinessMirror, which cites the Philippines' experience with microcredit as an instructive model for the U.S.

The world has indeed turned upside down, but in a way that should be familiar to anyone who appreciates the fact that history is not a hollow dream.  A large power crashes; the small rise up to lead the way.

It is ever thus.