Following Trump executive orders, Democrats offer Obamacare “fix”

A new stage in the bipartisan health care counterrevolution

14 October 2017

The last 10 days have marked an escalation of the bipartisan conspiracy against the health care rights of working class Americans. After Congressional Republicans’ numerous failed attempts in recent months to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Trump administration has issued a series of executive orders aimed at undercutting the legislation popularly known as Obamacare.

The president’s first order expanded exemptions for employers who claim moral or religious objections from requirements under the ACA to provide their workers with no-cost birth control.

Next, Trump finalized an executive order to allow “association health plans” an exemption from the ACA’s requirements to provide 10 essential services in their insurance coverage.

Finally, the administration announced that, beginning next Wednesday, it would be scrapping cost-sharing reduction payments (CSRs) to private insurers that help low-income Americans purchase health coverage.

Trump made clear that he is seeking to reach out to congressional Democrats to make a deal on health care “reform,” that is, changes to Obamacare to further reduce health care coverage. In a post on Twitter Friday morning, he said, “The Democrats[’] ObamaCare is imploding. Massive subsidy payments to their pet insurance companies has stopped. Dems should call me to fix!” He went on to call the law “a broken mess.”

All of Trump’s orders will have the effect of raising insurance premiums, particularly for older, poorer and unhealthy people, and denying access to basic medical services for millions. But this is not what concerns the Democrats in Congress.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer issued a demagogic statement Friday night scolding Trump for stopping the CSRs, stating in part: “[I]t seems President Trump will single-handedly hike Americans’ health premiums. It is a spiteful act of vast, pointless sabotage leveled at working families and the middle class in every corner of America.”

But the Democratic leaders concluded with their real point, which was to chastise the president if his actions meant he “is walking away from the good faith, bipartisan Alexander-Murray negotiations and risking the health care of millions of Americans.”

Earlier this month, following the Republicans’ failed repeal and replace attempts, Trump tweeted, “I called Chuck Schumer yesterday to see if the Dems want to do a great HealthCare Bill.” Schumer responded: “If he wants to work together to improve the existing health care system, we Democrats are open to his suggestions. A good place to start might be the Alexander-Murray negotiations that would stabilize the system and lower costs.”

Schumer is referring to the health care talks being led by Senators Lamar Alexander (Republican of Tennessee) and Patty Murray (Democrat of Washington). These bipartisan negotiations have nothing to do with expanding medical coverage to the 28 million Americans who remain uninsured, improving the already hopelessly inadequate benefits of many, or in any way reining in the profiteering and power of the insurance and pharmaceutical monopolies.

Instead, their “fixing” of Obamacare involves shoring up the insurance industry by means of various payouts. The Democrats have also agreed to a “compromise” allowing insurers to skirt the Obamacare regulations requiring insurance companies to offer a set of essential benefits by offering “skinny” plans, as well as to dodge ACA protections for individuals with preexisting conditions.

Any “compromise” between the Democrats and Republicans on health care reform is by its very nature a conspiracy against the working class. It is entirely premised on the subordination of the need for health care to the profits of the corporations and the functioning of the capitalist market.

Ohio Governor John Kasich was more transparent on what a bipartisan deal on health care would look like, stating this summer, “After two failed [Republican] attempts at reform, the next step is clear: Congress should first focus on fixing the Obamacare exchanges before it takes on Medicaid. … Once we see these repairs taking hold, Congress should then take up needed improvements to Medicaid as part of comprehensive entitlement reform.”

All of the failed Republican versions of Obamacare repeal and replace cut hundreds of billions of dollars from Medicaid, the government health insurance program for the poor, elderly, the disabled and pregnant women. They posed the virtual end of the program as a guaranteed entitlement program, by imposing block-granting and per-capita caps to the states, which would force states to deny benefits to people who qualify.

Through these measures, Medicaid would be starved of funds on the road to privatizing and ultimately dismantling the program. There have been no clear statements from leading Democrats opposing in principle the termination of Medicaid, which everyone in the political and media establishment knows is the first step to dismantling and privatizing Medicare, the government insurance program for the elderly, and Social Security, the government pension system.

The bipartisan plans to “fix” Obamacare in the interests of the insurance companies—further slashing benefits and raising premiums for working families, while cutting costs for the government and corporations—are not at odds with the spirit of Obamacare. In fact, they reflect its essence and objective: that workers are living too long into retirement, receiving costly and “unnecessary treatments,” and that something must be done to curb costs in the interest of corporate profit.

As early as 2009, the year before the ACA was signed into law, the World Socialist Web Site wrote:

“[Barack Obama’s] drive for an overhaul of the health care system, far from representing a reform designed to provide universal coverage and increased access to quality care, marks an unprecedented attack on health care for the working population. …

“Obama’s health care counterrevolution is of a piece with his entire domestic agenda. It parallels the multi-trillion-dollar bailout of the banks, the imposition of mass layoffs and wage and benefits cuts in the auto industry, and a stepped-up attack on public education and on teachers.”

The Democrats’ policies on health care reform are no alternative to Trump’s. Both will lead to untold suffering, misery and preventable deaths. The defense of basic social needs such as health care requires a fight against capitalism, which in its advanced stage of crisis is incompatible with basic democratic and social rights.

A fight in defense of health care requires a fight for socialism. The health care industry must be removed from private hands and placed under public ownership and the democratic control of the working class. This is not an unrealistic pipe dream but the only rational solution to a health care system dominated by profit and defended by an outmoded ruling elite.

Kate Randall

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/10/14/pers-o14.html

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Ai Weiwei’s Harrowing Film on the Refugee Crisis Is a Must-See

A still from Ai Weiwei’s new documentary, “Human Flow.” (Screen shot via YouTube)

Once called the “contemporary art world’s most powerful player,” Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei has turned his focus onto the most urgent humanitarian issue of our time: the global refugee crisis. In a new documentary called “Human Flow,” the artist—who has made political statements the core of his art—explores how war, violence and climate change have made refugees of 65 million people.

Ai, who traveled with his camera crew to 23 countries over the course of a year, captured intimate moments of desperation that have driven refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea, Palestine, Myanmar and elsewhere, risking their lives to escape violence. The film is sweeping and vast, with drone-camera shots utilizing aerial views to showcase the extent of the crisis, combined with intimate iPhone footage taken by Ai.

“Human Flow” is essential viewing for Americans, whose government has not only had a hand in creating many of the crises that drive migration, but is also actively closing the door to refugees. “The U.S. does have a responsibility,” Ai told me in an interview about his film. “Very often people in the United States think that something happening in different continents doesn’t really affect the U.S.” But, he says, “Look at U.S. policy and what’s happening today: the travel ban, or the building of this ‘beautiful’ fence or wall between the U.S. and Mexico. It all shows that the leadership has a very, very questionable position in dealing with migration and refugees.”

Indeed, President Donald Trump—with the help of the Supreme Court—has kept in place a de facto blanket ban on refugees entering the country. It is perhaps easy for most Americans, who live so far from where this misery is unfolding, to ignore the global refugee crisis, especially given the near-daily assaults on the Constitution and good sense emanating from the White House these days.

But by embedding himself for months in the flow of refugee life while making his film, Ai developed an understanding of what it is like to flee violence and danger. Through “Human Flow,” he takes viewers into intimate spaces: the heart-rending decisions as families weigh whether to stay or leave, the pain they feel from losing their loved ones in the choppy seas of the Mediterranean, and the frustration and rage that emerges from being blocked from reaching their destinations by barbed wire and armed police.

One moment in “Human Flow” is seared in my memory—a moment no Hollywood studio could reproduce. Two young brothers are sitting on the muddy ground outside their meager tent in the semi-darkness of a refugee camp. One is crying, promising to follow his brother anywhere, no matter what. Ai added context to that remarkable scene, which he and his crew witnessed. “They had no idea where they would be accepted,” he told me. “They had been refused. They had been stopped at the border and had spent all their money on the dangerous journey to come to a place which will block them and maybe send them back.”

In another harrowing scene, an Afghan woman agrees to speak with Ai, but only if her face is not on screen. She sits with her back to the camera and begins answering questions about her family’s torturous journey from Afghanistan. Minutes later, she loses control and throws up.

One middle-aged man takes the film crew to a makeshift graveyard, where multiple members of his family were buried after they drowned while trying to flee. He breaks down in tears as he sifts through the identity cards of the dead—all he has left of his kin.

At a time when Europe and the U.S. are rewriting their rules for entry in direct response to the massive demand by people looking for safe haven, Ai’s film puts faces to the numbers. “You see people really feel betrayed,” Ai says. “They think [of] Europe as a land that protects basic humanity.” The cruelty of European anti-refugee policies emerges as a central theme, as Ai explores the abandonment of lofty ideals of humanity on a continent that promised never again to turn away refugees after World War II (ironically, tens of thousands of European refugees fled the violence of World War II and found refuge in camps in the Middle East, including in Syria). It was, perhaps, easy to make pronouncements like “Never Again” in hindsight, but when the opportunity arises to prevent another human disaster, all the familiar political reasons re-emerge, like zombies from the grave.

Not content to showcase the fleeing refugees from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and Eritrea, the film also includes the stories of refugees who are less popular in mainstream media: Palestinians displaced from their homes and languishing under Israeli siege in Gaza, Rohingya Muslims fleeing Buddhist Myanmar’s persecution, climate refugees from various African countries, and even Latin American migrants desperate to enter the United States.

Bizarrely, it is the story of a wild animal that best expresses Europe and America’s abandonment of humans. A tiger, having entered Gaza through an underground tunnel, is housed and fed by a local organization. “Human Flow” shows the extraordinary lengths to which local, regional and state authorities cooperate with one another to ensure the safe passage and relocation of the tiger—a privilege not afforded to the refugees stranded on the same lands. Unlike the “flow” of humans seen throughout the film, Palestinians living in Gaza are “stuck,” according to Ai. “It’s like jail for millions of people living in such unbelievable conditions,” he says of the unending Israeli siege of Gaza.

The artist-turned-filmmaker has broken a number of barriers in his film by focusing on the humanity of tens of millions of people that the world would rather forget about. But he has also broken some rules of filmmaking. There are few talking heads in the film and little discussion of politics and policy. News headlines from media outlets scroll along the bottom of the screen, filling in the blanks in terse text. And really, do we need any more films about the well-documented causes of human suffering in the global refugee crisis?

What Ai’s film offers is what is missing most from our discussions of the refugee crisis: the fact that those who are fleeing are real people who bleed when they are injured, who cry when they are hurt, among whom are innocent children and tired elders, who are all being abandoned in a moment we will collectively look back on in shame.

“Human Flow” opens in theaters nationwide in October. Learn more online at www.humanflow.com.

Sonali Kolhatkar
Columnist
Sonali Kolhatkar is a columnist for Truthdig. She also is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV (Dish Network, DirecTV,…

5 of the Most Regressive Laws in Practice in the South

NEWS & POLITICS
In some states, progress is clearly not the most important priority.

Photo Credit: James Scott/Flickr

There are a lot of dumb laws in states throughout the U.S. State constitutions can be centuries old, so silly and archaic laws like those forbidding horses and donkeys from sleeping in bathtubs tend to be disregarded or overwritten by federal laws. But there are plenty of outrageous policies being implemented today, in the name of religious protection, or common decency, or whatever else proponents come up with to justify revoking civil and human rights. Silly laws certainly aren’t limited to the Southern states alone, but the supremacy of Christianity and fear of people of color are culturally pervasive in this region, despite blue cities and liberal pockets that have become havens for more progressive Southerners and out-of-towners.

Today we may view laws like one in Kentucky that forbids attorneys and government workers from dueling, as backwards. But they were taken quite seriously when they were first written. Here’s hoping these five are seen as equally insane one day.

1. Sex toy purchases are illegal in Alabama.

This rule has been embarrassing Alabamians ever since the Anti-Obscenity Enforcement Act passed in 1998. You can receive a $10,000 fine and a year in jail if you’re caught buying or selling a vibrator the first time, and up to 10 years for a second offense. The ACLU tried to take the case up with the Supreme Court in 2005, but the court declined to hear the case.

2. Sharia law is officially condemned.

In Texas and Arkansas, where the Muslim population is 1% and 2% respectively, common sense suggests that Christian Southerners are not much in danger of being overtaken by hyper-conservative Islamic law. But both states recently approved legislation against it, and momentum seems to be building in other Southern states for similar policies. The declarations against Sharia law are based solely on fearmongering, meant to bully Muslims living in those states.

As the Southern Poverty Law Center explains, “the mass hysteria surrounding a so-called threat of Sharia law in the United States is largely the work of anti-Muslim groups such as the American Freedom Law Center and ACT for America, an SPLC-designated hate group.”

3. Voter ID laws across the region punish the poor for being poor.

States that require citizens to show ID at the poll station are rolling back the progress made on voting access since the end of Jim Crow. Obtaining an ID card can involve time, money, access, and mobility that many poor people of color lack, especially the elderly. “It’s all about the political will,” Anita Earls of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice told NBC. “If you look at a map where African-American populations are the largest, it’s basically all of the Southern states, and that’s where most of these new voting restrictions have been enacted.”

4. New anti-LGBT laws revoke the rights of gay, bi, trans citizens.

A breathtaking wave of over 100 bills slashing civil rights for gay, bi and trans people have been introduced to state legislatures since 2010 alone, as the Huffington Post rounds up, and many have passed. Here’s a small sample: “Mississippi lets any person or business deny services to same-sex couples because of religious objections. In North Carolina, the governor signed a law banning cities from passing LGBT anti-discrimination ordinances and barring transgender people from using bathrooms that match their gender identity. Tennessee also has a ‘bathroom bill,’ plus a bill that lets mental health professionals refuse to treat LGBT patients.”

There have been many more attempts at these kinds of laws throughout the region, catalogued by the ACLU.

5. Alabama tried to chase out undocumented immigrants.

HB-56, set into motion in September 2011, cracked down on illegal immigration in what many believed at the time was the harshest measure of its kind in any state. It required Alabama schools to track and report the legal status of children enrolled there. As a result, Alabama schools saw a mass exodus of Hispanic students, whose parents in many cases fled to other states in fear that their immigration status would be shared with ICE. And that was largely the point: the law’s chief sponsor, State Rep. Micky Hammon, promised undocumented immigrants in Alabama that he would “make it difficult for them to live here, so they will deport themselves.” Challenges from Eric Holder’s Justice Department thankfully nullified much of the law by 2013, but if another state tried to pass a similar bill in Trump’s America, Jeff Sessions might not be inclined to fight it.

Liz Posner is an associate editor at AlterNet. Her work has appeared on Forbes.com, Bust, Bustle, Refinery29, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter at @elizpos.

https://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/5-most-regressive-and-weird-laws-still-practice-south?akid=16181.265072.U7_1YY&rd=1&src=newsletter1083558&t=6

Trump administration limits access to birth control under ACA

By Trévon Austin
7 October 2017

The Trump administration has announced plans to revoke the federal requirement for employers to include birth control coverage in health insurance plans. The new policy would expand exemptions under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for employers who claim moral or religious objections to contraception.

Under the previous mandate, more than 55 million women employees had access to no-cost birth control. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the percentage of women employees that pay with their own money for birth control fell from 21 percent to 3 percent after contraception became a covered preventive benefit.

The new exemptions will be available to for-profit companies, nonprofit organizations and colleges and universities that provide health care to students and employees.

Hundreds of thousands of women could potentially lose access to benefits they receive at no cost. The Trump administration itself estimated that some 200 employers who have already voiced opposition to the Obama-era mandate would qualify for exemption, and that 120,000 women would be affected.

In expanding the exemption for employers, the Trump administration claims there are “dozens of programs that subsidize contraception for the low-income women” and various alternative sources for birth control exist.

The administration also cites health risks that it says are correlated with the use of certain types of contraceptives, and claims the previous mandate that required employers to cover birth control could promote “risky sexual behavior” among teenagers and young adults.

In contrast, many obstetricians and gynecologists say contraceptives have been and are generally beneficial for women’s health.

Dr. Haywood L. Brown, the president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, expressed concern for consequences on women’s health. “Affordable contraception for women saves lives,” he said. “It prevents pregnancies. It improves maternal mortality. It prevents adolescent pregnancies.”

The Trump administration cites the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a 1993 law protecting religious liberty, as legal reasoning for the new mandate. The administration admits that moral objections are not protected by the law, but states: “Congress has a consistent history of supporting conscience protections for moral convictions alongside protections for religious beliefs.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Department of Justice would take steps to protect the new policy and stated, “President Trump promised that this administration would ‘lead by example on religious liberty,’ and he is delivering on that promise.”

The new policy is expected to face a large number of lawsuits. The National Women’s Law Center, a nonprofit advocacy group, has been preparing a lawsuit since last spring. Brigitte Amiri, a senior attorney for the ACLU, said, “We are preparing to see the government in court.”

In addition, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced plans to file a suit against the new mandate.

Trump’s new policy is an obvious attempt to win support from religious groups and conservatives, such as Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who claimed today is “a landmark day for religious liberty.”

A group supportive of the administration’s action is the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Roman Catholic nuns who said that being required to cover contraception would make them “morally complicit in grave sin.” The organization sued the government, despite an already existing exemption for churches and other religious employers to opt out by notifying the government.

During his 2016 presidential bid, Trump promised that he would “make absolutely certain religious orders like the Little Sisters of the Poor are not bullied by the federal government because of their religious beliefs.” At a Rose Garden ceremony in May, he told the religious order, “Your long ordeal will soon be over.”

The Trump administration’s mandate sets a dangerous precedent for working women’s health. In 2014, in the case Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the Supreme Court ruled that the ACA violated the religious liberty of Hobby Lobby, and stated that corporations could object to the birth control coverage mandate on religious grounds. Under Trump’s mandate, corporations could deny women employees access to no-cost birth control simply based on “moral objections.”

The new policy sets a precedent for corporations to deny other health coverage to employees under conditions in which the state of women’s health in the United States is already dire. The US holds the highest maternal mortality rate among industrialized nations, and a lack of access to birth control will potentially exacerbate the problem.

The new policy goes into effect immediately.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/10/07/birt-o07.html

Why identity politics and class politics can’t be separated

Some liberals are eager to detach identity politics from economic populism. But economic justice is social justice

09.23.20173:00 AM
During last year’s Democratic primary race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, the disagreements between the two candidates were most apparent when it came to the economy. While Sanders built his campaign around economic issues like income and wealth inequality, campaign finance and free trade, Clinton often downplayed the importance of economic issues and even tried to characterize Sanders’ focus on things like inequality and Wall Street corruption as an unhealthy obsession.

“Not everything is about an economic theory, right?” said Clinton at one point during a speech to her supporters. “If we broke up the big banks tomorrow — and I will if they deserve it, if they pose a systemic risk, I will — would that end racism? Would that end sexism? Would that end discrimination against the LGBT community? Would that make people feel more welcoming to immigrants overnight?”

“No!” replied the triumphant crowd, as if their candidate had just delivered a devastating coup de grâce to her opponent.

Of course, no one — not least Sanders — had ever made the absurd claim that breaking up big banks or addressing any other economic problem would magically end racism or sexism or any other kind of bigotry. This was a deliberate attempt by Clinton to smear her opponent — who had much more credibility on economic justice than she did — as being out of touch with the concerns of women, people of color and the LGBTQ community. More importantly, though, it was an attempt to separate the economic realm from the social and cultural realms, which made it easier for Clinton to prove her progressive bona fides.

As an economic centrist who had long taken big donations (or speaking fees) from Wall Street and corporate America, Clinton lacked credibility with progressives when it came to economic issues. Thus she tried to discredit Sanders as an “angry white male” who couldn’t grasp the real concerns of women and people of color (even though Sanders is a Jew who grew up in 1940s America and has an equal if not better record than Clinton on social issues like LGBTQ equality).

Ultimately, Clinton and other corporate Democrats were trying to muddy the waters with these disingenuous arguments in order to create a false tension between economic populism and social liberalism. Only a straight white male like Sanders, the logic went, could become so fixated on economic issues like income and wealth inequality, because he did not experience racism, sexism or homophobia on a daily basis. This argument was based not only on a cynical version of identity politics that gave greater importance to a candidate’s race or gender than his or her politics, but on a false dilemma between class politics and identity politics. Furthermore, it implied that the social democratic policies advocated by Sanders — e.g., Medicare for All, raising taxes on the wealthy, increasing the minimum wage, strengthening Social Security, defending labor unions, etc. — would disproportionately benefit white males.

This implication is, as many progressives pointed out at the time, utterly untrue. In fact, women and people of color would almost certainly benefit more from Sanders’ populist economic agenda, as they are disproportionately affected by the economic injustices it was designed to counteract. Sanders made this point during his campaign last year when he observed that African-Americans were hit the hardest during the financial crisis, losing half their collective wealth after being unfairly targeted by the big banks (along with other minority groups) with subprime mortgages during the buildup of the housing bubble.

That economic justice and racial justice are deeply intertwined was given further credence last week when a new study was released by the Institute for Policy Studies revealing that median black household wealth in the United States will fall to zero by 2053 if current trends continue, while the median white household wealth is on path to climb to $137,000.

“By 2020 median Black and Latino households stand to lose nearly 18% and 12% of the wealth they held in 2013, respectively, while median White household wealth increases 3%,” write the authors. “At that point — just three years from now — White households are projected to own 85 times more wealth than Black households and 68 times more wealth than Latino households.”

These stunning numbers display how much the economic problems that Sanders highlighted during his campaign impact the very people he was unfairly accused of ignoring. They also demonstrate how class politics and identity politics are closely linked, and that the dichotomy or binary opposition between them, as created or perceived by certain liberals, is spurious.

After Clinton lost to Donald Trump last November, Sanders argued that the Democratic Party must adopt a populist economic agenda in order to come back strong from 2016. This predictably set off a backlash from neoliberals, who accused Sanders of being a “white male brogressive” who wanted to put women, minorities and LGBTQ people “on the backburner for economic populism.” One critic even opined that Sanders wanted to “defend white male supremacy.”

The fact that Sanders’ economic populism would help the very people he is accused of putting on the “backburner” demonstrates the sheer lunacy of these attacks. If Sanders were advocating completely jettisoning identity politics for economic populism, of course, it would be another story. But only confused liberals see class politics and identity politics as incompatible and invariably at odds with each other. The senator was actually making the opposite point: “To think of diversity purely in racial and gender terms is not sufficient,” wrote Sanders. “Our rights and economic lives are intertwined.” Rather than calling for the Democratic Party to drop identity politics, he was making the point that race, gender and class are interconnected, and that economic justice is social justice.

Sanders was, however, rejecting the cynical form of identity politics that — as Briahna Joy Gray puts it in her excellent Current Affairs essay “How Identity Became a Weapon Against the Left” — wields identity to “neutralize political pushback.” The kind of identity politics, in other words, that Clinton frequently deployed during her campaign to counter legitimate criticisms — exemplified by the time she suggested that she couldn’t be a part of the “establishment” because she is a woman.

Over the past few decades, as economic inequality has skyrocketed to pre-Great Depression levels and communities of color have seen their wealth decline, the economic and corporate elite have co-opted the language of diversity and weaponized identity to defend the economic status quo. But the same people neoliberals claim to represent are the ones who suffer most under the status quo. As the authors of the aforementioned study write, “without a serious change in course, the country is heading towards a racial and economic apartheid state.” Economic populism offers an alternative, and a politics of class solidarity is the way to achieve this alternative.

CONOR LYNCH
Conor Lynch is a writer and journalist living in New York City. His work has appeared on Salon, AlterNet, Counterpunch and openDemocracy. Follow him on Twitter: @dilgentbureauct.

The Story: Life, the World, Now, You, and Me

Hi. I’m Umair. I want to tell you a little story about life, death, meaning, purpose, happiness, you, me, the world, and why I founded Eudaimonia & Co.

A couple of years ago, right at the peak of it all, jetting around the globe, writing books, giving speeches, invulnerable as a rock, I got sick. Keeling-over-losing-fifty-pounds-in-a-month-sick. The doctors told me I had months to live. And after the heart-stopping panic subsided, a funny thing happened: I was happy, thinking and writing about the meaning of it all, in a way I’d never really been discussing economics, leadership, and society.

Dying young — or at least thinking you’re going to — is like climbing the Mount Everest of inner clarity. You think about life. Not in a mournful way. Maybe you haven’t lived enough for that yet. Just in an appreciative one. Life is a funny thing. Unique, singular, strange. Camus famously called it absurd. It’s the only thing in a lonely, clockwork universe that struggles. Rivers flow, clouds dissipate, oceans ebb. But only life undertakes an improbable, uncertain, difficult quest for self-realization. A tree stretches into the sun. A little bird builds a nest. You strive mightily all your days long for happiness, meaning, purpose, grace, defiance, rebellion, truth, knowledge, beauty, love. That quest is what makes life so strikingly different from dust, fire, mud, air.

Only today our quest for self-realization doesn’t seem to be going so well. If I asked you, “how do you think the world’s doing?”, I’d bet your reply would be on the spectrum between not-so-well and dire, not pretty good and fantastic. Which is just as I’d had to warn of, and that’s why writing about economics always made me unhappy. Maybe the fate of the world wasn’t my cross to bear. Maybe it isn’t any of ours. But I didn’t know that then. And yet. The world seems suddenly different now, doesn’t it? The headlines now are an almost comically absurd smorgasbord of catastrophe: nuclear war, Nazis, natural disaster, societies fracturing, impotent frustration at it all.

It’s a head-spinning, anxiety-inducing time. It’s even scarier to admit it, so let’s do it together. Climate change. Stagnation. Inequality. Extremism. They feel different, more threatening. Bigger and badder than yesterday’s problems. They are. These are Massive Existential Problems. To societies, cities, democracy. To you and I and our kids. To the entire planet. Why are they all happening at once? How are we to solve them? Can we? If we don’t, problems only create more problems. Climate change creates refugees, famine, starvation. Stagnation creates authoritarianism. Inequality and extremism create war. A vicious circle, a savage feedback loop of problems. We’re at cruising altitude — but the engines are stalling. A nose dive of human possibility looms.

How did we get here? Every age has a paradigm of human organization. A set of defining principles and beliefs about what life is for. In the past, you can think of things like tribalism, feudalism, mercantilism, and so on. What’s our paradigm? Why isn’t it working?

Every paradigm’s end, purpose, defines it. We organize — whether countries, companies, societies, days, projects, investments — for just one sole end: maximizing income. Whether it’s called GDP, profits, shareholder value, all are more or less different words for the same imperative: the most income over the smallest increment of time an organization can produce. This overarching social goal of maximizing income trickles down into maximizing incomes for corporations and firms and banks and households so on.

Today’s paradigm of human organization — which is a relic of the industrial age — is economic. Our lives — in fact, all life on the planet, in fact, all life in the universe, because life on this planet is the only life that we know of anywhere in existence — are thus oriented around the pursuit of a single end: maximizing short-term income. Maximizing immediate financial income is the sole purpose of all the life that we know of, which all the life that there is.

Here’s the problem.

In the economic paradigm, well-being, the fullness of life’s quest for self-realization — whether or not lives are growing, flourishing, becoming, developing, to what degree, extent, duration, quality, whether it’s your life, my life, our grandkids’ lives, or the planet’s life — is nonexistent. It’s not conceptualized, represented, counted, measured, quite literally valued. Not in GDP, corporate reports, profits, markets, theories, models, prices, costs, benefits, anywhere. Not even in the smallest way — quantitatively, functionally, arithmetically — and so certainly not in the truest way: qualitatively, conceptually, substantively. And so because well-being, life itself, isn’t represented or valued, it’s not worth anything according to the calculus of this paradigm.

What do you with stuff that’s free? Well, you take it. So the economic paradigm uses up, drains, exhausts all the many kinds of well-being above to attain it’s sole end, how much immediate income it can produce. Let me give you two examples. If we break each others’ legs, GDP will go up, not down. We’ll have to take taxis to work, and pay for more medical care, which are counted as “gains”. Does that example strike you as absurd? It is, but it’s very real: in the extreme case, you get a society where an economy is growing, but life expectancy is falling — modern day America.

Life itself — in it’s truest sense, as a quest for self-realization — is systemically undervalued, underrepresented, and under-understood by the economic paradigm of human organization. Let me put that a little more bluntly. The economic paradigm of human organization doesn’t care. About life. Yours, mine, our grandkids, our planet’s. In any of it’s three aspects: not it’s potential, nor it’s possibility, nor it’s reality — life a beautiful and universal quest for self-realization. It’s sole end is maximizing immediate income. It doesn’t care if you’re happy or miserable, if you’re fulfilled or hollow, if you’re humane and gentle and wise or cruel and brutish and spiteful, if you flourish or wither as a human being, if the oceans dry up and die or teem joyously, if the skies turn to ash, if if you, me, our grandkids, or the planet, dies young or old, or if any of us live or die at all, in fact. It just doesn’t care. It wasn’t designed to. Thus, all that possibility, all that potential, is never realized: it’s used up to maximize immediate income. More and more, maximizing immediate income minimizes life’s potential.

And that’s the hidden thread that connects today’s four Massive Existential Problems. Climate change happens when the planet’s well-being is used up to maximize immediate income. Stagnation happens when people’s well-being is used up to maximize immediate income. Inequality happens when a society’s well-being is used up to maximize immediate income. And extremism is a result of all that ripping yesterday’s stable and prosperous social contracts to shreds. Today’s great global problems are just surface manifestations of the same underlying breakdown — a badly, fatally, irreparably broken paradigm of human organization.

The paradigm is the problem. A solely, paradigmatically, one-dimensional economic approach to human organization. That old, rusting, busted, industrial-age, economic paradigm is what’s created the Massive Existential Threats the world faces today. The single-minded pursuit of maximizing short-term income (versus, for example, optimizing long-run well-being) is what’s ignited inequality, stagnation, climate change, and extremism — and the later problems that are likely to stem from them.

And so — it’s no coincidence — here we are. Desperately clutching the controls in a nose dive of human possibility. But the controls don’t seem to work anymore, do they?

Every age has a challenge. Here’s today’s. Crafting a new — perhaps a radically new — paradigm of human organization, that values, represents, respects, celebrates, elevates, and expands life. Life is an impossibly big word, because it is such a strange and striking and impossible thing. Yet when you and I say “life”, we don’t mean some kind of actuarial probability table, the one-dimensional way the economic paradigm values things, but life in all its fragility, messiness, emergence, contradiction, complexity. Life in that sense, as self-realization, is more and more what’s minimized by the economic paradigm of human organization, so that it can maximize income. That’s what a broken paradigm means, and because it is the problem inside all the problems, that is what needs to be fixed, reversed, upended, turned around, with a better one. So how can we —

“Wait”, you cry. “Why should I care?” I see extreme capitalism has trained you well, young Darth. I sympathize. I didn’t want to either, remember? I just wanted to die happily. And yet. We — you and I — are going to have to care for a very simple reason. No matter how glorious your startup, moneyed your giant corporation or investment fund, mighty your city or country — today’s Massive Existential Problems are going to take you down too. Think your company can function without working societies? Your startup without a planet? Your country while its cities drown? Think again. Sure, you can ignore it all, but you’re only kidding yourself. The world feels broken because it is, and none of us are mighty enough to keep on escaping its expanding catastrophes by a thinner hair’s breadth of victory on our own little treadmill. The precise opposite is true: it’s up to us to make it better, and not just some of us, but each and every one of us. Sorry. Welcome to reality. Here’s a little consolation. Even tiny ways will do, which, in their gentleness and grace, are often greater than big ways.

So. How can we begin crafting that better paradigm?

I call it moving from an economic paradigm to a eudaimonic paradigm of human organization. It has new ends for organizations: five new goals that elevate and expand life, versus blindly maximizing income. And it has new means: design principles with which to build organizations that can accomplish those ends. Together, those ends and means make up a little framework that I call “eudaimonics”. It’s meant to help us build organizations that are better at creating wealth, well-being, and human possibility, not just maximizing income, because life itself is the true measure of the success any and every organization, from a family to a company to a city to a country to the world itself.

What does such a eudaimonic organization look like? Whether it’s a company, country, or city, it’s different in vision: it has a concrete, overarching goals to To do it, it’s different in structure: it probably has a Chief Eudaimonia Officer or the like. It’s different in strategy: it doesn’t just launch products and services, but focuses on the human outcomes those have, whether lives are flourishing and growing or not. And it’s different in management: it doesn’t just report, track, manage, identify, optimize profit against loss, economic indicators, but eudaimonic ones, that are about how much life it’s really giving back to you, me, our grandkids, and the planet.

Here’s another example of eudaimonics, at macro scale. The objectives and strategies and policies and values and and roles and titles and numbers and metrics and measures and reports and the rest of it — all of the software of human organization, from “profit” to “GDP” to “markets” to “value” to “wealth” to “vision” to “mission” to “work” to “jobs“ — that power our countries, cities, companies, corporations is going to have to be updated and rewritten to realize life.

So. A brief summary. Human organizations have become treadmills. But they should be gardens. In which lives flourish, grow, fruit, and flower. The great challenge of this age isn’t single-mindedly maximizing one-dimensional income as the sole end and purpose of human existence, but elevating and expanding life’s possibility. Whether mine, yours, our grandkids’ or our planet’s. That noble, beautiful, improbable quest for self-realization — eudaimonia — is the reason we’re all here, each and every one.

Remember me? There I was, happily dying. And then the fates did what fates do. Pulled the rug out from under me. I didn’t die. The old world did. And the new world isn’t yet born. We’re going to have to create it, give painful birth to it, drag it out of ourselves, kicking and screaming, with love and grace. Even those of us, like me, who thought they’d be content watching the sun set.

Hence, this little organization. You can think of it as a lab, consultancy, thinktank — what it really is is an invitation. So if you’d like to join me on this quest, consider all this yours.

Umair


(Here are three brief footnotes for nerds. I emphatically don’t mean “economics is bad!”. It’s not. It has a great deal to teach us. The problem is that it’s used backwards. Abstractions of reality are meant only to provide academic insight and theoretical validation. But we use economic ideas — theories and models — not to validate theories, as real world levers to fulfill them. See the difference? That’s like taking a bunch of monkeys who’ve survived the clinical trials of a wonder drug and…putting them in charge of a nation’s healthcare. Inquiry has been turned around to become a method of human organization. Thus, the economic paradigm of human organization shouldn’t be one at all — economics should be just one tiny way, among many, to see, explain, think about human behavior, not a mode of organizing it, especially not the only mode.

In a similar vein, there’s often a refrain of “things are getting better! They’re not that bad!”, meaning that extreme global poverty has been reduced. That’s true, but. Those gains have been concentrated in India and China, and while the old paradigm might have raised median incomes there from $1K to $5k, it can’t raise them from $5k to $50k. Not just because the planet doesn’t have the resources, though it doesn’t — but because those societies already face the same tensions the old paradigm has produced: inequality, extremism, dissatisfaction, and so on. In other words, the old paradigm is out of steam. Technically, we’d say that the social, civic, and human externalities of the economic paradigm are too high for the world to bear.

That also means paradigm change isn’t just about going from capitalism to socialism. Both those — and all the “isms” surrounding them — still often share exactly the same paradigmatic goal, the same sole end — maximizing immediate income, trickling down from bigger to smaller organizations. As a simple example, China’s nominally socialist — but it’s overarching social objective, is precisely the same as America’s — to maximize GDP. So paradigmatic change doesn’t just mean “capitalism versus socialism”. It doesn’t mean any ism, in fact. Not liberalism, conservatism, libertarianism, leftism. None of it. Paradigmatic change means something truer, deeper, more radical — changing the means and ends of human organization, the purposes to which our days, moment, ideas, relationships, careers, ambitions, dreams are devoted.)

Touching Grace: A Little Closer to the Point of it All

If I could sum up this age in word, it’d be “hostility”. Wherever we go, whatever do, there it is. Petty nastiness over even the smallest differences. Hostility on social media, on TV, in the news, hostility between left to right, fringe and center, young and old, poor and fortunate, hostility, enmity, oppositionality, polarity, all day, every moment, endlessly. How does it make you feel?

I want to tell you a little story.

When I was ten or so, at school, they asked me: “what do you want most in life?” Imagine asking little children that question for a moment, which implies that life is about the pursuit of desire, not the price of love. They were training us to be little warriors, you see. So the little ones dutifully replied “money!” “cars!” “a mansion!”, and so on. Until they got to me. I frowned, thought very hard in my tiny mind, and said, “I think what I want most is peace.”

“Peace?”, the teacher replied, puzzled. “Like…world peace?”

“No,” little me said. “Just peace in me.”

The kids tittered, as kids do, the teacher frowned in disapproval, as teachers do, and never again was that awkward moment mentioned. Peace. What does a child know? What does a child not know? The child in me already knew something, just a little something, of the battles raging in me, and already wanted respite from them. Me against the world. Me against everyone else. Me against life. Battle. That’s what they teach us life is, isn’t it? Not how to really be ourselves, but how to make these wars, in this truest and most deadly of ways.

Fast forward a few decades. I’m a good warrior. I’ve won all my battles. My books have been published, I’ve won some tiny degree of fame, money, respect, and so on. There’s just one catch, one price, one problem. Everyone’s also an enemy when all you are is the world’s greatest warrior. So my life is one long, endless, wearying war, in which relationships, happiness, meaning, truth, people are all expendable. Casualties. Friendly fire. And slowly, though I’m young, war, which is death, is asking its price: me. In a true and real way. Of my possibility to love, to know, to feel. I’m becoming dead relationally, mentally, physically, socially, to love, to life, to grace. War. The most deadly of ways. The battles raging in me. They are also the battles raging in you, too.

What I wanted was peace, yet all I’d really earned, in this adversarial way of life I’d been taught, was the opposite. Rage, turmoil, fury, becoming the storm, and do you know what those really are? They are forms of hopelessness, powerlessness, numbness, despair. They are prisons of the human soul, because every instant you live them is an instant you are not (by definition) happy, self-aware, capable of appreciating or enacting beauty or truth or wonder or mercy, even upon and within yourself. That series of little wars that I’d been taught was the one true way to live, to be, to achieve, to have, hadn’t gotten me any closer to fully living. Only, somehow, an endless distance away from it. It’s a terrible price I’m paying. But I don’t know any other currency to use than hostility in this little life.

And then I get sick. I don’t know it yet, but I’m fighting the one war I can never win. The sun is killing me. Can a man fight the sun? What will he use? A mountain to block the sky? A net made of comets? Such hubris, such folly, is what tragedies are made of. So there I am, fighting and fighting. It’s all I know. My teachers have taught me well. And yet the harder, the more desperately I fight, the idea, the truth, the terrible knowledge, that I am sick, and maybe I will never get well again, that maybe this is it, goodbye, the end, the more I can hear fate laughing at me. This is the one war you can never win.

One day, into a long and painful illness, I’m just watching people. Bam. Something is different. Really different. Not in them, in me. I can’t see them as enemies, adversaries, rivals, opponents, in a great and endless series of contests for all the pleasures people tempt each other with. Can’t. Which is what I’ve done all my life, because it’s what we are taught to do. I just see them. Their suffering and beauty and pain. Their fear and hurt and love. I’m as transfixed as I am transfigured. It’s not some kind of miraculous superpower. It’s right there, on every face. Don’t you know? A little dog does, a child does, the stars do. They see us as we truly are. So why don’t you? Why didn’t I? My teachers taught me well. But they didn’t teach me much at all.

Then, at last, there was peace. From where? Just from nothing but perspective. Nothing between me and people had changed. I hadn’t suddenly gained it by having more money, fans, friends, dates, things, wishes, small mercies, charity, or even kindness. Only now I had a sense of grace, which means just seeing, accepting, knowing, holding everyone as they are. Just as they are. Then you become the sky that holds every storm, and transforms it into the rain that waters the soil of the garden.

So peace comes to us through grace. And grace comes to us not from winning wars. Not wars to be wanted, desired, respected, admired, nor even wars of kindness, mercy. It comes to us only through the wars we can’t win. The wars we can’t win teach us what is really universal, constant, necessary, worthy, beautiful, true, in life. Suffering is always with us. But so is love. Love is greater than suffering, because one can undo the other, but the other cannot undo the one. And so the wars we can’t win teach us that life is not really a war at all. It is just a way home, a crossing to the other shore, a return.

We are always coming home to love, in this way, in every instant and moment, every thought and action, every feeling and perception, and in that return to the garden is grace, and in grace is the perfect stillness of the human heart. A river flows, but is still. A heart beats, and it is still. Then we are home. There is nothing wrong with life, there is nothing right with life, there is just life. But now life is greater than us, and yet, it is the same life. Just lived in countless ways, to express all the infinite names of love. The wars we can’t win teach us all that.

So. I don’t think that you or I can heal this broken world’s hostility. We are not here to do that, are we? That is another war, too. Just to become the sky, instead of only the storm. To plant some little part of us in the garden. To let our rivers flow. Just one of those is enough for a life, any life, every life. Then we are touching grace.

Umair
August

https://umairhaque.com/touching-grace-35e2c0b270a