First there was Brexit. Then there was Trump. Then there was the rise of neo Nazis in Germany. And now there’s Macron’s grand plan to reform the EU. It’s the final nail in the coffin.
The old world just died. Did you notice? Most of us, while we might feel uneasy, haven’t. So let me explain what I mean when I say the old world died — and then we’ll discuss how to build a better one, in hard, sharp, concrete terms.
The old world was the post World War II system, often just called Bretton Woods. It’s been dying for a long time. The US began breaking it in 1971, in fact, not coincidentally the precise date of the end of segregation. That system was forged on three pillars, international trade, capital liberalization (aka money being able to moved around), and open borders (at least for some). But that system didn’t work out. It produced too much inequality, too much debt, too much paper gain, and therefore, too little real benefit for the average person — just like during the 1930s. Only this time, it wasn’t countries like Germany that ended up indebted and broke and suffering and enraged — it was people across societies, to a new, borderless global class of super-rich.
Hence, today, the greatest problem in the world is that incomes are stagnant everywhere. Yup, everywhere. Hence, protest votes. People saying: this system isn’t working. We want a better one — or else we’d rather just tear it all down. Stagnation predicts right-wing swings. The harder the stagnation bites, the harder the swing. And this degree of stagnation is producing more and fiercer extremism — larger and larger groups of people saying no system, only tribalism is better than this one.
And so all the above began to happen. They’re often called protest votes. But what is being protested? The old social contract isn’t working. That contract wasn’t quite the same, of course, in all these places. And yet it was precisely the same, in one key way: it was designed to maximize GDP. But the price was that it didn’t create enough eudaimonia: life well lived. People’s lives began to feel stuck. Their human possibility withered, even while economies grew.
So what can we do about it? Are we powerless? Shall we merely watch the world descend into poverty, dissension, and fracture once again? We are more powerful than we think. Only we don’t really have the tools we need to begin crafting better social contracts. So here’s what I think those contracts should look like — no matter what kind of institution offers them, a government, company, city, town, startup. You can think of my three little steps as a new purpose for institutions of all kinds, if you like.
Next-generation social contracts should target real gains in well-being.They should say: here is the well-being people enjoy now. Financial, social, civic, human, natural and so on. The levels of savings, income, trust, happiness, democracy, and so on. They should build a comprehensive picture of human life. And then set concrete, yearly targets to elevate it. We do that with GDP and income, don’t we? So now it’s time to do it with well-being instead. Whether we’re societies, countries, cities, unions, corporations, startups — it doesn’t matter. We are all going to have to make this paradigm shift, because the old contracts are failing.
Next-generation social contracts should contain strategies to expand well-being. Every company has a corporate strategy. Every country has a national strategy. But they’re strategies to maximize income and GDP. What’s needed are strategies to expand well-being. First we must set goals, and then we must think: how are we going to hit these goals? We do it with financial gains — now we must do it for human possibility itself. That will spark, require, demand, create waves of innovation. The real thing. So let’s discuss that.
Next-generation social contracts should reward real innovation.Innovation’s an overused word. Social media isn’t really an innovation — it’s effects on well-being are net negative, we’re discovering the hard way, as it toxifies our democracies, our societies, and shrinks our happiness and peace of mind. Innovation, if the word means anything, is stuff that genuinely elevates our quality of life. That really expands the boundaries of well being. That realizes human possibility when it’s used — not only shrinks it. So we’re going to have to start rewarding and punishing very differently. If we target, measure, and strategize for well-being, then we can reward those who create it, too. Instead of merely shovelling bonuses at people who aren’t really contributing much to our societies or companies. Facebook isn’t better off because an exec sold ads to Russia — it’s worse off, and so is America. Rewarding eudaimonically destructive behaviour only leaves institutions worse off in the long run.
The old world is dying. In fact, it just died. Right before our eyes. It’s easy to feel powerless. But the simple fact is that creating the future isn’t overly complicated. It’s going to take work, sure. But it’s not like discovering antibiotics — chance, coincidence, happenstance. Destiny holds little sway over human fortune. In the ultimate analysis, perhaps it was time for the old system to go. And that is precisely why we must create a new one.
This is a repost of the excellent article written by Umair Haque which you can find here: The Old World Just Died. Here’s How to Build a New One.