The Price of "Betterness"

By Jack Palmer 01-17-2012
Umair Haque via Wylio http://bit.ly/AugRQB

Umair Haque speaking at the 2009 NEXT conference in Berlin. Via Wylio http://bit.ly/AugRQB

If you’re on Twitter, you may well have a few people that you follow with such enthusiasm that it occasionally feels a little like you’re stalking them. You re-tweet every article they post, nod along with every inspiring tweet they type and include them in your Follow Friday list every week.

Even if that’s not true for you, it’s certainly true for me of one person in particular — Umair Haque.

Haque is a self-titled “author, blogger, thinker, reformer.” But the more I read of his work, the more inclined I am to add the title “prophet” to that list of descriptors.

Haque is a prophet in the sense that he is preaching a message that is for a specific group of people (those who are disenfranchised but not quite cynical enough to give up yet) at a specific point in time (now, in a time of economic malaise). His words cut right to the heart of what has been going wrong in our world, and they are words that many, many people need to hear.

So it was with great relish that I purchased his new digital book, Betterness: Economics for Humans, excited to hear these words.

One of my favorite quotes comes from a 1968 Robert Kennedy speech when he said that our Gross Domestic Product “measures everything… except that which makes life worthwhile.”

http://youtu.be/77IdKFqXbUY

Indeed, Haque uses the very same quote himself in Betterness. From its title alone, Haque’s book sent tingles down my neck. He speaks into this same aspect of our life: What is the point of economics, business, politics if not to be for the real benefit of people? Not individual persons, CEOs or corporate directors, but people as a collective.

From the outset, Haque is concerned with one thing – the fulfillment of human potential. For a book that, from its title, gives the impression that it might attempt to create a new economic system, the author somewhat surprisingly starts out with a very different discipline: Psychology.

Haque begins his treatise by asking, What if we weren’t content with being normal, productive and managed within the confines of the status quo, but instead continually strived to find a place where we can be extraordinary — and lead lives that are “better, richer [and] wholer."

Haque’s contention with modern economics (and indeed politics and culture) is this: We have expended so much energy on minimizing the dysfunction of the system that we haven’t had enough energy or will to build a “positive paradigm." He asks, How might things “not merely…go less wrong, but more right?"

http://youtu.be/66mcsvje2Gs

I fling myself into Haque’s camp when he labels himself “an unrepentant optimist” and find myself reading arguments that, for many of my still short years, have been whirling, untamed, in my mind. “Billions of brow-mopping person hours spent on bigger SUVs, smellier deodorants, and jumbo-sized fast food," Haque muses, probably “isn’t the lofty apex of humankind’s untrammeled potential.”

Quite. When will success not merely be viewed in terms of ‘more’, but in terms of ‘better’?

Whether he is aware of it or not, much of what Haque writes is steeped in how I understand the ministry of Jesus.

Having is by no means the best, or only, way of making humans better off.

What does an "authentic plenitude" look like? It’s more than having money in the bank — it’s about receiving life and life to the fullest.

How do we live a life that is worthwhile in human terms, not just in the jargon of business (efficiency, productivity, cost-effectiveness)?

Our internal paradigm — how we understand the world and even how we speak— is grounded in an industrial age. But haven’t we moved beyond that?

Shouldn’t our way of understanding the world move on, too? The abundance that mass production created once was considered revolutionary. In our economic and moral malaise, isn’t this the perfect opportunity once again to be revolutionary?

Here’s the thing about Haque's book/essay: If you think everything is hunky-dory, you will not like it. This is not a book about reform. It is fundamentally a revolutionary text. It’s about fault lines between the way things have been and the way they can be.

Haque himself says:

"If you’re delighted with the status quo, splendidly contented with the present, firmly convinced that the way we live, work, and play is the best and last way we can, put this volume back on the digital shelf."

Still, this is the book you need to read if you’re, A) thinking that things aren’t going quite as well as they are supposed to; and B) an “unrepentant optimist."

It’s only 100-ish pages long and yours for the low-low price of $2.69 as an instantly-downloadable Kindle Single via Amazon.com.

And really, how can you put a price on Betterness?

Jack Palmer is a communications assistant at Sojourners. Follow Jack on Twitter @JackPalmer88.
 

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