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Reflections on My Biggest Failure, How to Change a Paradigm, Plus, The Economy’s Even More Broken Than We Thought (And How It’s Going to Shape The Election)

Reflections on My Biggest Failure, How to Change a Paradigm, Plus, The Economy’s Even More Broken Than We Thought (And How It’s Going to Shape The Election)

I’m Umair Haque, and this is The Issue: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported publication. Our job is to give you the freshest, deepest, no-holds-barred insight about the issues that matter most.

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  1. If many dairy farm workers contract H5N1, we risk a pandemic (WaPo)
  2. Europe Is About to Drown in the River of the Radical Right (NYT)
  3. Far-right would use election success to undermine EU (EuroNews)
  4. UN expert attacks ‘exploitative’ world economy in fight to save planet (The Guardian)
  5. Decoupling: How to Think About the Prospects of Truly Green Growth (Aeon)
  6. Liberalism without Accountability (LRB)
  7. Why so many bad bosses still rise to the top (McKinsey)

Hi! How’s everyone? I hope you’re having a grand old week. Welcome new readers, introduce yourselves in the comments, and a Big Thanks to everyone who’s joined so far. Today we’re going to talk about…many things. Success, failure, paradigm shifts…and then the economy the election (and you can skip to that part if you want.)

Reflections on My Biggest Failure

I’ve been reflecting on failing. A lot. I don’t know what else to think about these days. The way that it all went, as those of us who tried to warn of all this were sort of demonized, vilified, character assassinated, and more…only to be proven right…and yet the whole point of warning about something terrible is to prevent it happening. In that respect, I failed badly, and I’d bet a lot of people feel that way, watching the world unravel this hard and fast.

I understand myself differently than I did when I was younger. And one of the things I understand is that hidden in the depths of each and every failure is a sort of triumph. That emphatically doesn’t mean the modern mantra that “failure’s good for you!” It’s not. I feel wounded, battered, and broken, these days. It’s not good for me in any way. I’d much rather be, I don’t know, sitting on a pretty beach without a care in the world. Eff that noise.

What I understand, though, goes like this. We failed at warning of what was to come, but we succeeded at something, too. We changed the paradigm. You, me, everyone else who was warning. 

What do I mean by that? Take a look at, I don’t know, any facet of mainstream media today. It’s become perfectly acceptable, if not de rigueur, to warn that Trump’s a fascist, an authoritarian, and so on. Now, these were very the places and spaces that were aghast at the suggestion not so long ago—a very clear line in place that you couldn’t even suggest such things. And now? Here they are, sort of…

Doing exactly what I used to do. What we used to do. That’s sort of funny, sort of tragic, and sort of…interesting. It tells us a few things. While I, and if you want to include yourself on the list, or not, either way’s fine, might have failed in the sense we wanted to succeed at—warning, preventing, averting—still, we changed something.

How to Change a Paradigm (and The Price of Changing One)

We changed the paradigm. What can you say? What’s acceptable? What’s important? What matters? Just a few short years ago, it wasn’t condoned by power to even really comment on the rise of fascism, or mega scale climate change, or inequality, or how broken the economy is. But today, even power’s beginning to enrol just those ideas, messages, notions, in it’s view of the world. That’s a paradigm shift.

And that matters a great deal. Not just so that we salvage something from the ashes of failure—not for that reason at all. Not so that we can say, “well, we didn’t totally fail!” Make no mistake: we did. Democracy’s dying, the planet’s heading towards hitting all its tipping points, the economy, as we’re about to discuss, is only getting more broken, fascism’s surging, and on and on. We failed absolutely and terribly, and that is the judgment history will deliver, and it’s the one we should face and damn ourselves with, too.

The paradigm shift we sparked matters for a very different reason. Not to say that we didn’t fail, but that we succeeded, at least, if only at a lower level of criticality, importance, and relevance. At least now those messages and conversations are becoming part of the paradigm of power. You can now very easily open up CNN or the Post or whatever and see fascism and climate change and inequality and whatnot represented, and that’s a major, major change, from the sort of rosy portrait that the paradigm would have painted just a few years ago, while castigating us for being alarmists.

So we changed something, something important, and worthy, and we should appreciate and respect ourselves for that. Even while we reflect on the larger failure, which is on its level, absolute and irredeemable—which hurts, badly, and that’s sort of the price, along with the hate, spite, venom, bile, reputational damage and so on, which I’ll discuss more in the coming days.

As I continue reflecting on how badly I failed, the natural question is, always, in such moments: why? Why were our warnings ignored?

Why Power Resists the Paradigm Shifts it Has to Make (Or Else)

Let me tell you a few secrets about paradigm shifts. I understand myself now as a guy that changes paradigms. I’ve done it a few times—I changed marketing’s paradigm, you don’t know that, why would you, I don’t talk about it much, but in another life, I’m sort of a Don Draper, who reinvented the entire field. I changed the way that we think about the economy, in yet another guise. And this time, I think that I helped change the way we think about politics and society.

What have I learned about changing paradigms, along the way? Many, many things, some funny, some weird, some sad, all very…human. Paradigms don’t change easily, and when you change them—it’s not often that people even believe that you did that, and that’s sort of what power is. Let me give you an example.

Just the other day, I was sitting down with a lady, I barely even remember whom, and we were sort of talking about business and economy and marketing. I said to her blah blah blah, she said, how do you know, I said, I created Meaningful Brands (which was this huge thing that went on to transform the marketing industry, just so you get what’s coming next.) She stopped, went silent, and rolled her eyes

I said…what’s the…uh…problem? What—why are you, LOL, rolling your eyes at me.

She said, indignant, no you didn’t!. I chuckled, and said: really. I actually did. I…created it. It was my…idea. 

And from there, you can guess how stilted and awkward the rest of the conversation was.

So. Even having changed this huge paradigm, the thing we call modern marketing, she couldn’t quite believe that I did it. Why not? I’ll give you three guesses. I’m a brown dude, I don’t talk about it, and certainly not in the way I should, with “the confidence of a mediocre white guy,” as they say, and so nobody really knows the story. They just think this paradigm shift must have been plotted by like five wizened old oracles in a cave somewhere, maybe. Certainly not…just…me.

Changing paradigm is like that. It happens, and then they turn around, and ask: who did that? And they cast the person that’s still most acceptable to power in that role—in this case, given the marketing industry, it should be, I don’t, some sort of hipstery-looking white dude that talks breathlessly about TikTok, not a brown guy whom the light can kill, and talks about civilization and the economy.

Paradigms don’t change until they’re ready for change. We often think that we can force change on paradigms, but that’s rarely the case. They sort of have to suffer internal inconsistencies, and fragmentations, and breakdowns, and then they’re ready to be changed.

What happened later, as I, we, you, me, all of us, began to challenge the prevailing paradigm of politics? At first, they’d laugh, and say, hey, they’re not fascists! And over the years, power looked increasingly foolish, because, well, they sure acted like fascists. Then came Jan 6th, along with Trump’s resurgence, and it became more and more undeniable. 

The old paradigm was inconsistent. It didn’t tell an accurate story of the world anymore. So it was ready for change. 

But paradigms, being constructions of power, always resist and fight change. So they’d call us all kinds of names—only to end up, a few short years later, right where we are, funnily, stupidly, enough. Yet paradigmatic power’s resistance to change doesn’t even stop there. I told you my Havas story, creating Meaningful Brands, to make a point. Even after I changed that paradigm, people, like said lady, still resist the idea that People Like Us Can Change Paradigms. That’s how deeply baked into power resistance to change really is. You can actually change the paradigm, and it still won’t change power’s assumptions and biases, which is pretty striking when you think about.

I failed for all those reasons. Power is incredibly resistant to change, and in this case, power still doesn’t “believe”…for example…that climate change can get really “bad,” or that inequality’s ripping our world apart, or that Trump is going to…

The Economy is Even More Broken Than We Thought

I met another lady. This time, at my dog park. And we got to talking, two Americans in Europe. But she was different from me. A kind of card-carrying Democrat, I realized, who insisted that Biden was going to win. I chuckled, and said, what about young people, leaving in droves over Gaza, which is about, of course, much bigger issues of peace and equality. And her response startled me. They don’t matter, she said. They don’t vote anyways.


Let me tell you another secret, and now we’re going to come back to earth. Trump is going to win. How do I know that? Because…not even just Gaza, really, but the much more immediate issue of the economy.

This week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its latest estimate for the share labor receives of national income for the first quarter of 2024. The statistics shows the income workers receive compared to the productivity their labor generates.

According to BLS, this income share has declined for non-farm workers from around two-thirds, 64.1% in the first quarter of 2001, to 55.8% in the first quarter of 2024.

My God. I nearly had a heart attack when I read these numbers. How bad is that? It’s catastrophically bad.

This is what’s known as “the labor share of national income,” meaning, how much of GDP does the average person actually get. And this number? To call it dire would be an understatement.

You might not know why, because why would you, you’re not an economist, so let me put in perspective for you. In healthier economies, the labour share is between 70-80%, all said and done. And that sort of makes sense: what we’re really talking about is how much money is just kind of skimmed off the top, in the form of profit, essentially, before workers even get a paycheck. 

In 1947, U.S. workers got about two-thirds of the income from their labors. “Now, they’re getting something that is just a little bit over half. And so they’re getting less of the pie,” said Erica Groshen, who used to head the Bureau of Labor Statistics and is now at Cornell.

Why should that number be any higher than 20% or so? Think about it: what possible reason is there for more than say, 10 or 20% to be accrued to capital, of an entire economy? Unless, I don’t know, we’re in a war, or we need to pay for mega-scale investments, there is no reason. 

Conversely, can you think of any reason why people should take home just 50% or so what they genuinely produce? Why about half of the value people produce should be skimmed off the top before they ever see a dime?

No wonder the American Dream is dead or dying. No wonder people are so broke even the “middle class” can barely make ends meet, and more to the point, that means a middle class doesn’t really exist anymore. No wonder downward mobility’s the norm, and people are perpetually broke, even on relatively high salaries, compared to the rest of the rich world. 

A labor share of just over 50% is absolutely ruinous. What does it mean? It means many things, some of which are above: people grow frightened, anxious, desperate. That a society’s class structure can’t really sustain a healthy middle. But it also means that such a society can’t invest much in anything, especially itself, because when the average person’s taking home so little of what they produce, there’s not much left over for the public purse. And it also tells us that a society’s sort of been captured by elites, because like I said, capital taking half of an economy before people see any sort of reward at all is sort of a horrific sight to see.

This number is seriously bad. So bad that I’d suggest it more or less spells a kind of certain doom for Biden. There’s this whole sort of song and dance mainstream media does. Is the economy bad?! People say so! But here’s Jeff, in Minnetonka, who says he’s doing great! Fake controversy, false debate. The reality of the numbers is utterly…dire.

Now we know beyond a shadow of a doubt why people feel so bad about the economy. They might put a brave face on it, here and there, but the fact is they’re taking home about half of what they actually produce, and it’s not enough. For a prosperous, comfortable, worry-free life. And more to the point, it leaves in its wake a bitter, poisonous aftertaste, of being exploited, cheated, devalued, and seen as a commodity, all of which, the number tells us, is eminently true.

The Economy and the Election

It’s not sort of entirely Biden’s fault, of course, that America’s labor share is so low—that’s a function of everything from Nixon intimidating his way into office, to Reaganomics, America’s refusal to ever develop a modern social contract. But it does tell us that Biden didn’t move the needle, and it’s stuck right in the blighted place that it had been—which gave rise to Trumpism, as the former middle and working class’s anger finally boiled over, they became prey for a demagogue, who turned right around and blamed it all on scapegoats, not.

I’d find next to impossible to see how a statistic that dire—which tells us that the economy is in fact doing very, very badly—doesn’t more or less seal Biden’s fate. Above all, what Americans are looking for is an answer to this now incredibly sticky, messy, intractable problem, of a labor share that’s too low to really have a healthy middle class, democracy, or modern society on.

That’s going to take another…paradigm shift. Hey, don’t call me. I’m still dealing with the fallout of the last one. I’ll be on a beach somewhere, reflecting on my failures, probably, still—because the truth is that being the person changes paradigms? To do it, you have to stare deep into the dark heart of power, and the dead eyes of human folly—and it also leaves you, every time, with a broken heart.

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