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The Microfinance Delusion: Explaining the Destructive Rise of Local Neoliberalism

Annual Lecture

The Microfinance Delusion: Explaining the Destructive Rise of Local Neoliberalism 

Shani Page-Muir, 3rd year International Development with Politics student

The Microfinance Delusion: Explaining the Destructive Rise of Local Neoliberalism was a fantastic and insightful event for those new to the topic, and to those familiar with the themes discussed. Milford Bateman’s succinct but comprehensive introduction to the history of microfinance was a good starting point for those with little knowledge of the issue, but was equally a useful reminder to those with greater familiarity. Bateman highlighted fundamentally that the microfinance model should be discredited. Essentially despite some anecdotes, he argued that there are no net positive impacts of microfinance. This audacious claim served as the key focus of the debate.

The presentations by the two discussants which followed Bateman’s talk, added an interesting dynamic to the debate. Professor Thankom Arun, the first speaker, provided a more measured approach, viewing microfinance in a positive light. Dr Jason Hickel, however, further expanded on Bateman’s argument. I found Hickel’s presentation very interesting, appreciating three points in particular: the fact that microfinance fundamentally misses the point of poverty - its political forces - how microfinance promises a revolution without a class struggle, and how the rise of microfinance is part of the condition of late capitalism.

The conversations continued via the Q&A session, bringing into sharp focus the varied audience of the event and provided a dynamic setting to expand on the topics discussed. The audience included undergraduate and masters students from an array of disciplines, including politics and economics, and academic staff from both the University of Leeds and other institutions, such as David Hulme from Manchester University, who brought an important nuance to the argument, stating that microfinance has brought significant increases in life expectancy vis a vis the experiences of the previous generation in the developing world.

Overall, it was a great event and was very relevant in a development environment, which is increasingly scrutinizing a number of commonplace assumptions.