Umair Haque is an economist who writes for the Harvard Business Review. He has a wonderful book that I highly recommend, Betterness: Economics for Humans. In his work, Haque argues that the paradigm that we use to think and talk about the economy is dated and harmful. He writes, “We don’t have a working, generally accepted measure of real prosperity, just a gauge of industrial output. Hence,’business’ can contribute to GDP, but quietly and chronically fail in terms that matter to humans, like jobs, fulfillment, trust, happiness, and so on…As Robert F. Kennedy put it several decades later: ‘Gross national Product measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.'”
I have written often about the ways in which this market driven paradigm has co-opted and controlled the education reform movement, so much so that we now use the term, “the corporate education reform movement.” (See my previous blog posts on this here, here and here.) Our argument has been that the market driven paradigm doesn’t work in the public realm. And this is true. However, Haque’s argument goes even deeper. The market paradigm also doesn’t work in the market. Not only are we misapplying a paradigm, we are falsely assuming that the paradigm is applied correctly even within its appropriate framework. Haque points out that our measure of “success” is simply too one-dimensional, even within the single dimension of the market. He makes the strong argument that we desperately need to rethink the purpose of “business.” If it doesn’t help us reach our human potential in some way, shape or form, then we are wasting our time with it. “Here’s the larger paradox…: the more ‘business’ we do, the more our potential, our potential to enjoy an authentically good life, and our potential to create all the many different kinds of capital seems to diminish.” If this is true, and I think it is, then the so-called “real world” that we educators are always preparing our students for, is a world that will simply lead to their diminishment as humans, the diminishment of their communities and of the earth itself.
Haque calls for a radical leap into a different paradigm, one he coins from the ancient Greek goal of the good life, “eudaimonia.” This refers to a life that isn’t “…an easy, comfortable, materially rich life, but one that was authentically, meaningfully rich: rich with relationships, ideas, emotion, health and vigor, recognition and contribution, passion and fulfillment, and great accomplishment and enduring achievement, exactly what ‘business,’ ‘output,’ and ‘product’ seem so achingly deficient at producing. That conception of prosperity is very different than the one we know today.”
As educators, we have to be very conscious of why we educate. What do we want for our students? To what degree are we preparing them for a market paradigm that will lead to their own diminishment? To what degree are we culpable?
Think about it.