Live, on Oprah: Microfinance!

Who's sexier? Leonardo DiCaprio or Muhammad Yunus?

By Andrew Leonard
Published December 5, 2006 1:42AM (EST)

I suppose it is part and parcel of the surreal beauty of contemporary existence that in the space of 30 minutes, Leonardo DiCaprio and Muhammad Yunus both sat down on a couch next to Oprah and chatted about their latest goings on in front of a live, appreciative studio audience and millions of viewers on Monday afternoon. DiCaprio was there to push his new movie "Blood Diamond" (though he also noted that he drives a hybrid and is working on a documentary about global warming). Yunus came to talk about, in Oprah's words, "helping 100 million people around the globe step out of poverty." Hey, DiCaprio might get an Oscar nomination for his role! Oh, wait a minute, Yunus just received a Nobel Peace Prize.

DiCaprio got the bigger shrieks, but Yunus was cuter. Come on, how can you not fall in love with an economics professor who declares that the roots of the Grameen Bank started when he realized the uselessness of "teaching all these beautiful theories of economics while people are hungry?"

"Forget about all the other theories," he said to Oprah, explaining how he started out lending money out of his own pocket to women on the street. "I wanted to see what I can do for them, to do something that would make one person's life better for a day."

Microcredit has its detractors (for the most recent piece of backlash, an article in Forbes last week does a good job of summarizing the naysayer point of view), but Yunus has a way of getting right to the point.

"If you can make so many people so happy, with so small an amount of money," he asked rhetorically, "then why not?"

All along, Oprah had a sly smile on her face, as if to say, hey look, I've got a Peace Prize winner talking about poverty alleviation strategies right here on my couch, and isn't he just peachy? And you just had to savor the moment, when, during a discussion of the evilness of moneylenders, Oprah casually mentioned that a girl had told her about how a moneylender had confiscated all of her family's belongings "when I was in Africa the other day building a school."

Funny, you almost never hear Sean Hannity utter those words.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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Globalization How The World Works Oprah Winfrey