No 1721 Posted by fw, July 9, 2016
“The great systems of the world are breaking down. And in that breakdown, they are taking prosperity, stability, and social progress with them. That is why yesterday’s sense of easy security, comfort, and optimism is being replaced by anxiety, hate, fear, anger, and pessimism. Hence, today, nothing less than the great systems of the world must be reimagined and remade.” —Umair Haque
First, Umair’s personal story in brief
At the age of 35, Umair Haque was at “the top of my field. I’d written a few books. I was the most popular writer at Harvard Business Review. I gave talks, travelled the world, and helped run one of the world’s largest companies. I was living the dream.” And then he got really sick, was diagnosed with advanced terminal cancer. Then something strange happened – he didn’t die. Doctors, mystified, insisted he had only a month to live. Then came months of “not dying” — but believing he was going to die. Then something stranger happened – feelings of inner peace, calm, and gratitude. In that space, he contemplated “what is life?” “…in that moment. Pure, light, effortless. No burden of career, future, success ahead of me. And because, maybe for the first time in my life, I really saw. Whether it was a sunset, or a rose, or a person. I could just really see it. Not try to get it, have it, seize it. And even if that little happiness lasted just a month, maybe that was enough.” And then came love. “The person I fell in love with was the one who instantly knew what had been wrong with me all this time. It wasn’t cancer. It was the light.” Umair has a very rare genetic condition where the light can cause him to go into organ failure. “A death sentence, a disease, a curse, turned out to be a mighty gift…. My illness turned out to be a gift… If I can give the gift I received to others, then that’s right, true, and enough.”
Perhaps not such a remarkable story, but it touched me. To learn more about Umair’s story and what he’s doing now to share his “gift” with others, click on “My Story and Where it Led Me.”
Turning to Umair’s article —
The Great Systems of the World Are Crashing. Here’s How.
This is a troubled world. You don’t have to look very far to see it. Brexit, Trump, the rise of extremism across the globe, the decline of middle classes, the rise of the new poor. What’s really happening?
The great systems of the world are breaking down. And in that breakdown, they are taking prosperity, stability, and social progress with them. That is why yesterday’s sense of easy security, comfort, and optimism is being replaced by anxiety, hate, fear, anger, and pessimism. Hence, today, nothing less than the great systems of the world must be reimagined and remade.
The foundational system breaking is the global financial system. Surpluses are piling up at the top, whether those surpluses are personal or institutional, and so middle classes are beginning to decline. To put it another way, more than 100% of growth flows to those at the top now. Hence, the financial system is unable to allocate capital efficiently anymore, and the result is not just crisis after crisis, bubble after bubble, but the flatlining of prosperity for entire social classes.
As a consequence of the financial system breaking down, the economic system (aka “the economy”) is beginning to falter. The world’s three most powerful economies, the US, UK, and Japan, have stagnated for decades. And now, the global economy is stagnant for the first time in decades. But that stagnation isn’t equally shared. The ultra rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer. Like I’ve pointed out, we don’t have a word, concept, idea for this: it’s not a depression, and it’s not a recession. It’s an unprecedented kind of breakdown: a divergence, regression, implosion.
As economies falter, so social systems are breaking down. Even though interest rates are negative, and money is better than free, societies are cutting investment in public goods. Why? Because the rich are getting richer, remember, and that means that to them, who usually run societies, everything looks just fine — in fact, it’s never been better. And yet the middle classes are suffering far more than the numbers (“GDP”) reveal, because they have debt-crippling education, unattainable healthcare, decrepit infrastructure, jobs devoid of real opportunity, and so on. The end result is great social fractures. The abandoned middle votes, in turn, to abandon the very institutions that failed it, even if that means breaking up great countries and unions. Hence, Brexit.
And that’s why political systems are beginning to buckle, too. In the UK, in less than one year, a fascist has a) toppled the prime minister b) crashed the currency c) shattered the economy d) left the opposition in ruins. Nothing like it has been seen, let alone imagined, since the 1930s. In the US, Trump has broken the GOP into fractured pieces — while Congress is unable to get much done in the first place, let alone stop him. Analogous scenes are beginning to play out in Turkey, Holland, France, Belgium, to name just a few. Just think about it simply: a political system can hardly survive when financial, economic, and social systems are collapsing all around it, right?
Here’s the ugly truth. For the last few decades, institutions, whether political parties, businesses, governments, and so on, have been able to profit from this breakdown. They have been able to grow at the expense of middle classes, by deconstructing social contracts (“offshoring”) and pursuing the lowest common denominator (“financialization”). What they have really been doing is extracting value from people, and giving it to shareholders — and this weakening themselves in the process.
Think the mall brand that creates a fake persona, makes everything at the lowest cost, whether this year by barely legal children in Vietnam or next year Madagascar, invests almost nothing in design, people, creativity, all to squeeze out the last few pennies boosting its share price demands. Where is the real prosperity in this exercise? That is all a game, mostly done in this day and age to please hedge fund robots.
But now all that is changing. For the next few decades, the pendulum will swing the other way. Institutions that give the most — not take the most — will be those that prosper. Those that create real, enduring value, genuine wealth, lives worth living. Why? Because they will earn the trust, devotion, and admiration of the very people abandoned by their rivals.
Institutions that really improve and transform people’s lives in this dismal age of breakdown are going to create something new, bright, and lasting from the rubble of yesterday’s shattered dream. And the bottom-dwellers digging around in the ruins? Well, they’re probably going to end up trapped in the darkness.
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