Umair Haque - Fr, 01/24/2014 - 15:00
Imagine a towering, sheer cliff. Imagine a deep canyon below, full of ruined cities. Now imagine, on the canyon’s other side, a bountiful plain, rippling in the breeze, stretching into the sunset.
Welcome to the economy of the twenty-first century.
For young people today, the economy basically feels something like the portrait above, and they’re the ones stuck at the bottom of the ravine.
Consider the following:
1. The global economy is broken. I’ve suggested for many years that we are living through a zombieconomy – where the economy seems to stagger forward in a lifelike fashion, but it’s really just a reanimated corpse. I’ve attributed this mismatch to “growthism” – the blind pursuit of growth empty of real improvements in living standards. Another way to look at it is what both Tyler Cowen and I have called a “Great Stagnation.” But don’t take my word for it. No less an august personage than Larry Summers has finally pronounced this an era of “secular stagnation.” If Larry Summers, former treasury secretary and president of Harvard, is agreeing with the puny likes of me, I think it’s safe to say the phenomenon is real.
Stagnation means, in plain English, that living standards in many rich nations are going to fall for young people. That’s a fancy way of saying that life is going to get shorter, harder, nastier, dumber, and bleaker. No, sorry, just because you can buy a gigantic 4D plasma TV on 4000% APR credit and a bag of Doritos the size of an Escalade for 99 cents doesn’t mean you will live longer, be healthier or happier, or be able to afford an education for yourself or your children.
2. Our debts are overwhelming. Young people in many nations, especially rich ones, have unprecedented economic burdens to shoulder. There’s the small matter of paying for the planet not to melt down. Not to mention the massive debts so kindly passed on to us by bailed-out bankers. Or the massive debts racked up by the public sector. And that’s before we even talk about fixing our aging healthcare, transport, energy, and education systems; that’s before we even get into investing in new stuff we need that we don’t have. Think you’re going to retire? Think again. At this rate, you’ll still be busy paying off the debts of your parents and grandparents before you’ve even paid off your own student debt.
3. We can’t get jobs—much less careers. Opportunities for young people in many nations are somewhere between LOL and nonexistent. Globally, the unemployment rate is 4.5%, according to recent data from the World Economic Forum – but for workers under 24, it’s 12.5%. Crunch the numbers a different way and you get the same maddening result: 40% of the world’s unemployed are under the age of 25. In the Middle East and North Africa, more than 1 in 4 young people can’t find work. It’s roughly one in five in Europe, and it’s getting worse, not better: youth unemployment rates reached record highs in 2013 in Greece (65%) and Spain (56.1%).
4. The jobs we can get are awful. What few opportunities there are are underwhelming—and unfair. Guess what the largest employer in the USA is? Walmart. Guess what the second largest employer in the USA is? McDonald’s. Guess what the average income at a McJob is? Around $15.5K. Guess where the poverty line is? Around $22k. Think you’re gonna save up for that palatial summer home one day? Think again. You’re probably going to be cleaning it…for an aging billionaire…who owns twenty seven of them.
Even in economies where the “talent wars” still rage, is it really such a triumph that young people in China and India can finally aspire to…spend eighteen hours a day working in call-centers and factories? Because while those jobs are a step “up” the rusty ladder of material success, the brutal truth is that they don’t pay nearly what they should. Wages (Hi, I’m the ghost of capitalism—it’s very nice to meet you! Hey—look!! It’s a Kardashian!! Now hold on while I pick your pocket!!!) haven’t kept track with productivity. Even if you want to concede the weak point that the best the world can do is creating soul-sucking McJobs for the poorest, then the problem is that even the lucky “winners” of this game that our not-quite-leaders call an “economy” are getting the bad end of a worse deal.
Forget Generation X, Y, Z. Welcome to Generation F. If you’re under the age of 35ish, you’re getting (pardon my French) screwed. We are all put here to live lives that matter—but the life you should be living is circling down the drain of history. We are all here, in every moment, to make the most of our limitless potential—but your human potential is being squandered, wasted, thrown away.
What does it feel like to be a member of Generation F? It feels like purgatory.
Like you could send out a billion CVs and never land a job. Like you could work a billion jobs and never earn a living. Like you could earn a living, but never quite reach the same level of stability your parents knew. Like if you can’t hope for stability…what shot is there at prosperity? At, security, solvency—much less fulfillment, happiness, purpose? A life of lasting prosperity becomes something like $40,000 Birkins on the arm of a billionaire’s latest trophy wife: a super-luxury that is so far out of reach, we look at it with mockery and contempt rather than aspiration or hope.
Generation F is getting a deal so raw that no one but a politician or a serial killer could offer it with a straight face. So let’s call it what it is. Not just unfair—but unconscionable. The world’s so-called leaders have more or less abandoned this generation. Think that’s unkind—maybe even unfair? Then here’s a more generous take. The world’s leaders have coolly, calmly, rationally, senselessly decided that bankers, CEOs, lobbyists, billionaires, the astrologers formerly known as economists, corporate “people”, robots, and hedge funds are worth more to society than…the young.
The world’s leaders are letting the future crash and burn.
That’s right, burn. Because the damage that’s being done is permanent and irreversible. Basic math tells us this much. A lack of opportunity, especially when one is young, puts people on lower earnings and wealth trajectories for life. They’re not unlike prison sentences in that regard.
So what should Generation F do about all the above?
Create the future. The one that we’re not being allowed to live. And to do that, we’re going to have to break a few rules—so that the rules don’t break us.
We’re going to have take great leaps. Not baby steps. We’re taking too many of the latter, and we’re barely learning to walk. We’re going to have to stop wasting our time on pleasant, meaningless trivialities like minigames, dating apps, tacocopters, reality TV, and asymmetrical haircuts (OK, I admit it. I have one too).
Great leaps. Over the rubble of failed societies and broken economies. Or else we will remain trapped in the ruins, massed against the cliffs; a generation going nowhere.
Great leaps. In every aspect of work, life, and play that you can think of—and then more. We’re going to have to create, among other things: new ways to measure progress (like the Social Progress Index); new political parties (like the Pirate Party); new methods of governance (like Holacracy); new kinds of financial institutions and financial instruments (like Square), so money can get to useful places, instead of lining the pockets of econocidal maniacs in handmade suits; ways to provide healthcare, food, education, and transport, that actually have a hope in hell of working for everyone over the long haul, instead of breaking down all the time before they work for anyone—not to mention reinventing institutions like “schools,” “jobs,” “corporations,” “economies,” “governments,” and “banks,” and “pensions” so we can actually do all the above. We are going to have to literally take the giant plate of steaming, tasteless gruel we’re being so kindly, generously offered, carefully extract magic beans from it—and build a ladder right past the clouds and into the wide blue sky.
It’s not going not be easy. And it doesn’t feel fair. But every generation has a challenge. And that challenge must be faced, with courage, with dignity, with grace—if they are to grow into the people they may become. This is ours.
And so. The “F” in Generation F doesn’t stand for probably what you think it does. It stands for fixing the world. It stands for going further. And it stands for creating the future.
Kategorien: Umair Haque
Umair Haque - Fr, 01/10/2014 - 20:00
Happy New Year! Here’s your challenge. You—yes, you—right here, right now, have a chance, nothing more, a slim reed of a chance, at a year that counts.
So I’d be willing to bet you’ve been cutting back on the sugar and vowing to get to Inbox Zero. 2014 is the year you will finally floss! And make junior vice president assistant director!
Before you get carried away by your Evernote file of Paleo recipes and your elaborate new system of Outlook sub-folders — you have a bigger opportunity here. Being the person you were put here to become.
I believe, first, in a humble, simple truth: that each and every one of us is here to live a life that matters. And we must do so by making each and every moment of each and every day of each and every year that we are privileged to live count.
And while dental hygiene is important, I’d like to postulate four resolutions that will help you create something that matters even more: a year that counts.
Don’t give up on your dreams. If you want your year to count, don’t start with your goals. Don’t start with your plans. Don’t start with your objectives. Start with your dreams. The bigger, the more laughable, the more impossible—the better. We feel as if our lives count when—and only when—we brush against our dreams, with the fingertips of our days. When we feel them; when we know them; when we become them. Our dreams do more than “inspire” us—that insipid word so loved by TED talkers and motivational speakers. Our dreams infuse us. They sing to us of who we may become. They elevate us. For our days to count, we must feel—sometimes painfully, sometimes joyously, never easily—that our better selves are roaring, exploding, thundering to life. And our dreams are the songs that awaken them.
Never, ever give up on your dreams. Not when it’s difficult; and especially not when it’s sensible. Nothing is more senseless than the sensible choice to live a meaningless life.
Don’t be afraid to suffer. There are two reasons for human action, and economists, with their superficial talk of “incentives,” don’t understand either. Fear and love. What are you afraid of? Rejection, poverty, disgrace? Whatever you call it, here is what it is: suffering. But you must never be afraid to suffer. It’s not that suffering makes you “stronger”—for life isn’t merely an exercise in empty stoicism; and, indeed, suffering for it’s own sake is futile. Nor merely must you suffer for the “sake” of what you want—money, power, sex, fame. No: it’s that suffering is so intimately connected with love — with what makes life worth living. Your fears are not imaginary: they will, it is likely, come true. Yes, you will get dumped, axed, insulted. You will fail, stumble, falter You will hurt, ache, yearn, long, want, despair. But that is precisely the fire in which all the elements of greatness—empathy, grace, tolerance, forgiveness, perseverance—are forged.
It is no accident that the word passion arose from the Latin word for suffering. When we treat suffering as merely pain to be escaped, we sacrifice passion in the process. In a world where so many want to feel passionate about their lives and their work, very few seem willing to suffer. But you can’t have one without the other.
Suffering is the fire that melts the glass of the person you must leave behind. Suffering signals the price of growth; and we can never learn the worth of growth if we are afraid to suffer.
Seek the mystery inside the truth, not the truth inside the mystery. We’re taught to be obedient rationalists—super-nerd-brains running computer programs that optimize the lives other people tell us we should want—instead of, you know, human spirits capable of creating the lives we could live. What gets measured, goes the old adage, gets managed. So analyze, test, explain, iterate! But the universe is not just greater than what we can explain—it is infinitely richer. Can you put love in a spreadsheet? Can you iterate towards friendship? Can you explain happiness?
The truth alone isn’t enough if you want your days to counts. The mystery in the truth is where life begins to count. Why does this person love me? Did I really create that? What inspired me to break the rules and say that? What the hell just happened?!
Uncovering truths alone can help us make sensible choices—but sensible choices don’t propel to lives that matter. That leap is only taken in the instant you venture beyond certainty, beyond reason, beyond logic. And you must make that leap beyond truth every day, if you wish your days to count.
Let you happen. We, we are told, must “make it happen”; if we wish our lives to be precisely so. But that is the social philosophy of a child. Is it true that we must press the lever, if we wish to obtain the rewards we seek? Sure. If we’re lab rats—or smiling, thoughtless automatons. If, instead, we are here to live lives that matter, resonant with purpose, luminous with celebration, here is what is truer: we must let ourselves be, in every instant, who we were meant to become. We must be more than lever-pressers. We must escape our cages. We must let “it” happen. What is “it”? All that which imbues our actions with meaning; without which life is little more than an empty, meaningless performance—good and bad. Love. Yearning. Loss. Grief. Heartbreak. Tragedy. Despair. Triumph. Will. All that and more—we must let happen, if we are to grow. What stands in their way, most often? The world? No. It’s us, ourselves—it is the worst in us, that will not budge, that will not yield, that limits us. That leaves us feeling thwarted; stifled; cheated—because, in truth, we are. We are cheating ourselves of meaning when we do not let life happen—and act as we are merely conditioned to, by the cheap desires programmed into us instead: Achieve! Earn! Spend! Die!
So let you happen—all of you. Free yourself. Want a year that counts? Maybe you have to end a bad relationship so that you can have your heart shattered into a million tiny aching pieces…so it can beat with a fiercer rhythm. Maybe you have to tell your NeanderBoss “no” instead of smiling and nodding like a spineless flunky. Maybe you have to apologize to someone, and look your shortcomings straight in the eye. Or maybe you have to start that company, marry that person, and put down roots — even when the ground beneath you feels like shifting sand. Or maybe you have to strike out and get lost in the unknown to find the opportunity on the other side. Whatever it is, let it happen.
Rumi once said: “There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the sky”. What did he mean? Something like this: we truly know what it is to love only when we humble ourselves to what counts. Our days count—and only count—when we may love more than we could before. Think about it: if you loved your partner, job, house, city, country, family, friends, ideas…less and less every day, how would you feel about your life? Like it was empty, futile, senseless: like it hadn’t…counted.
Which instants count? They’re not the ones that fill up our wallets. They’re not the ones where we have a pretty girl (or boy) on our arms. They’re not the ones where we buy, have, possess, barter, win, conquer. They’re the ones in which humble ourselves to the meaninglessness of all that. That’s when we kneel. And come face to face with the sky.
So stop. Stop scurrying. Stop chasing. Stop worrying, envying, hoarding, scheming.
You’re free. (You always were.) And you have a choice–and a chance. At making it all count. Not just this year. But every instant. Every moment. It. Your life. You.
Here’s a great secret: you don’t only live once. You live an uncountable multitude of times; a lifetime in every day. And that’s more than enough for anyone.
The question isn’t if you’re going to die. It’s whether you’re going to live.
Kategorien: Umair Haque
Umair Haque - Mi, 01/08/2014 - 19:52
Who will offer the world more than a dead end?
Consider: Walmart is the biggest employer in America.
The typical Walmart “associate” (sorry—I meant Highly Exploited and Vulnerable Person With No Access to Healthcare, Job Security, Or Other Benefits, All of Which Are Subsidized By the Public Purse, Who’s Sometimes Locked in the Store Overnight) earns the princely sum of about fifteen and a half thousand dollars a year.
Fifteen thousand five hundred dollars is less than the average income…in Botswana. Other countries with higher average income than the typical Walmart employee earns? Lebanon, Malaysia, Gabon, and Barbados.
Perhaps, you protest: but not everyone in the US works at Walmart! Why, the nation’s full of super brainiac quantum rocket scientists! Who—justifiably deserving of their riches—are cracking tough, vexing problems, tackling noble, grand endeavors! Undertaking world-changing work! Like…like…ah, inventing highly leveraged synthetic financial products, finding better ways to deny healthcare to the elderly, creating the next housing bubble, making gigantic talking billboards, creating “sympathize” buttons for those awkward occasions you have to display real human emotion, and dreaming up reality TV shows that are even more stomach-churningly grody than the fast not-quite-food advertised in them.
No wonder heading to the office instills most of us with a heady, spine-tingling sense of dread, horror, resignation, and regret.
What’s happening to us?
Yesterday’s noble paragon of prosperity—the USA—isn’t finished. But what you might call its model of growth—its how and why of prosperity; what it means; why it counts; and where it is found—sure is.
America’s Way—or at least what it’s devolved to in the last decade or three—is a dead end. It’s a cul de sac—one that we’re driving around and around in…endlessly.
You know the endless “debates” the talking heads have had on cable news, every night…for the last thirty years…about the same topics…taking the same sides…offering the same failed ideas…over and over and over and over again…until most of us would rather eat our own socks than turn on CNN? You know how you know exactly what every major newspaper columnist is going to write…before you even read it…before you even open your laptop…before you stopped bothering to read the paper? You know how both “left” and “right” at this point seem like deviously not-quite-different brand names for two treacly flavours of high-fructose-corn-syrup-society-substitute that are actually marketed by the same McGovernment-Lobbying-Complex? You know how middle class incomes haven’t risen in decades…while people are working harder than ever…while their kids are deeper in debt, their prospects less stable, their opportunities quietly winking out?
You know how you probably wake up, blearily punch your alarm clock, curse your stars…and head to a “job” that—if you’re lucky enough to have one—makes you want to gnaw your own leg off, beat your boss over the head with it, and do a victory dance, because you can’t bear the thought of even another microsecond of another totally pointless meeting about a utterly useless product whose only purpose is to earn yet a few more pennies for brainless robo-shareholder-bots …every single day, over and over and over again?
That’s what I mean by a cul de sac. That’s what I mean by a dead end. America used to set an example for the world. But that example today? It’s a nowheresville of prosperity. A Potemkin Town of plenitude. A twilight zone of human possibility.
And nations today should be mortally, lethally afraid of getting stuck in it. More worried, in fact, about getting stuck in it than they are about marveling at how pretty the tree-lined boulevards approaching it are.
Many, it seems, are choosing to bypass the neighborhood entirely. China’s “capitalism”—more properly, a kind of mercantilism—seems designed to thumb its nose at America’s failed model entirely. Dubai’s a neofeudal kingdom built on modern-day indentured servitude, brushed under the glittering spires like so much worthless sand. Singapore? A benevolent technocracy, which bears little resemblance to a liberal democracy. And so on.
The point isn’t that these nations are, as though the global economy were a horse race, “surging ahead”. Indeed, they may not be at all. But the economy isn’t a race. It is an act of exploration—and then, of creation. And so: their erstwhile paths forward may equally well prove to dead ends—and I’d bet many already are.
And so the great question this decade, for the smallest of all human concerns, at least—the political economy—is this: who will offer the world more than a dead end? Who will pioneer a way forward—past the barren exurbs America’s stuck in? Who will offer the world—its teeming billions, its hungry slums, it’s crowded, surging masses—a future?
Are we—yes, you and I, each one of us—up to that challenge? I don’t know. Here’s what I do know.
I wouldn’t pay someone fifteen and a half thousand bucks to shove boxes of disposable junk around a warehouse. It wouldn’t free them. It would shackle them; and obligate us to jealously guard the key. And so it would not just be unfair to them—it would be unfair to the people both of us could and should be, at our fullest, truest, noblest, worthiest, highest.
And if that’s all America can offer to the world’s billions, then, well, they can—and rightly should—stop looking to America as the globe’s shining flame of prosperity.
The future’s made of us. And so, from now, until the end of time; it is nothing less than the only power we—fragile, small, brief—might be said to have.
The power to laugh at fate. And create the future.
Kategorien: Umair Haque
Umair Haque - Mo, 12/09/2013 - 20:00
This is the first generation of Americans in modern history expected to enjoy lower living standards than their forebears. It is the first generation in modern history whose life expectancy is dwindling. It is the first generation of modern Americans whose educational attainment is declining. It is the first generation of modern Americans who face less opportunity than their parents.
Shorter, nastier, dumber, harder, bleaker. That’s the future for not only Americans, but for many in the world’s richest countries.
Let me be clear why this is so remarkable. It’s not that the great wheel of prosperity is merely decelerating. It is that it actually seems to be turning backwards. The great wheel of progress already ground to a halt—several decades ago, if measured in terms of average incomes. And the real danger now? That it may be beginning to spin—in reverse.
Perhaps it’s just a blip. Perhaps it’s a temporary malfunction. Perhaps I’m overreacting — after all, the economy’s growing, right?
Yes… it is. And that’s precisely the problem.
For that is what tells us we are in truly uncharted water. The economy is indeed “growing.” But the top 1 percent have taken 95 percent of the gains in this so-called “recovery.” The plain fact is that the average household is poorer in the “recovery” than during the “recession.”
We cannot suggest that an economy is perfectly fine—nay, even healthy—just because a tiny number are growing richer while the lives of the vast majority are literally growing shorter, nastier, dumber, harder, and bleaker.
I can think of many other examples of progress slowing. Of prosperity decelerating. The great wheel’s motion is never even; there are bumps in the road of human progress — sometimes the great wheel spins furiously, sometimes, it hums along gently, and sometimes, it sputters and strains.
I can think of almost no other example in the history of modern democracies of progress actually becoming regress. Short of war or cataclysm, it is literally unprecedented. And that’s not the half of it. It’s unprecedented…because it should be impossible. If the rich get richer, it should be precisely because they create goods of real value to people, which elevate their living standards. In a working economy, “growth” should reflect real prosperity multiplying.
But when growth rises and living standards fall? That begins to hint that there is something wrong—very wrong, perhaps terribly wrong—with the way things are. It suggest that what is happening to this society is not merely a simple, passing, self-healing ailment; but a chronic, possibly permanent, definitely debilitating condition. Not a flu—but a cancer.
Economics has no language—no word—to describe this condition: one in which the economy is “growing” but human progress is reversing. It’s not a depression—for that’s a situation where growth flatlines. It’s not a recession—for that’s just a temporary setback in growth. A “dark age” would signify both a decline in growth and a decline in living standards.
We have no words for this condition because economics has no concepts with which to fully grapple with—let alone understand—it. And economics has no concepts with which to understand this condition because economics believes, more or less, that it simply isn’t possible. Progress cannot go backwards when an economy is “growing”; because growth, as I’ve noted, is believed by the acolytes of the cult of economics to be the alpha and omega of human prosperity.
What, then, do we call it?
For we must give it a name, this secret hidden in plain sight. The secret that, if it were to be mentioned, would—and should—instantly discredit our leaders. Would and should silently condemn our institutions.
Given that the growth rises even as life expectancy, mobility, and educational attainment fall — that GDP expands even as the lives of the vast majority contract from shrinking health, intelligence, income, wealth, relationships, stability, security, meaning, and purpose — I suggest we call it a Great Inversion.
In this post-recession twilight zone, our economy is upside-down and inside-out.
I won’t pretend to smile, pat you on the back, and offer you bullet-pointed “solutions.” Because to a phenomenon this great, this unprecedented, this historic? I don’t believe there are any.
But I do believe that maybe, just maybe, if we have the wisdom to think through the above, the empathy to feel the tremendous suffering the future already surely holds, and the courage to see what is right in front of us—well, then, maybe, just maybe we can reach another turning point.
Not one in which human progress goes into reverse. But in which it goes into overdrive. In which the great wheel hits the redline and we all surge forward.
That’s the real challenge of the 21st century. Not just more tired, piecemeal incrementalism; not more excuses for a broken status quo; not more apologists and yes-men for leaders barely worthy of the term; not more dead ideologies and empty dogmas—the very ones that led to a Great Inversion. But revolutions. Millions of them. In every mind; in every undreamt dream; in every skyward eye. In every life.
Kategorien: Umair Haque