What Microloans Miss

Making loans and fighting poverty are normally two of the least glamorous pursuits around, but put the two together and you have an economic innovation that has become not just popular but downright chic. The innovation—​microfinance—​involves making small loans to poor entrepreneurs, usually in developing countries. It has been around since the nineteen-seventies, but in the past few years it has seized the imaginations of economists, activists, and bankers alike. The U.N. declared 2005 the International Year of Microcredit, and the microfinance pioneer Muhammad Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, while celebrities like Natalie Portman and companies like Benetton have become fervent microloan advocates. Even ordinary Americans can now get in on the act, at sites like Kiva.org, where you can make a microloan yourself. (Right now, a clothing vender in Cambodia needs seven hundred dollars to “purchase more clothes to sell.”)

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