Utopia for Realists: The Case for a Universal Basic Income, Open Borders, and a 15-hour Workweek

A roadmap to utopia (with Rutger Bregman)
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There is a solution to every problem – neat, plausible, and wrong

Opinion Show more Opinion. Whether you look at the incidents of depression, burnout, drug abuse, high dropout rates, obesity, unhappy childhoods, low election turnout or social and political distrusts, the evidence points to the same culprit every time - inequality. But hold on -- what should it matter if some people are filthy rich if even those who are very poor are better off than the kings of centuries ago?

A lot.

How Loved it. However wealthy a country gets, inequality always rains on the parade. Being poor in a rich country is a whole different story to being poor a couple centuries ago, when almost everybody, everywhere was a pauper. Take bullying. Countries with big disparities in wealth also have more bullying behavior because there are bigger status differences.

This undercuts the quality of relationships, manifested in a distrust of strangers and status anxiety, for example. The resulting stress, in turn, is a major determinant of illness and chronic health problems. The fact is that they both matter. These two forms of inequality are inextricable. Just look at the global rankings -- when inequality goes up, social mobility goes down. Anybody eager to work their way out from rags to riches is better off trying their luck in Sweden, where people born into poverty can still hold out hope of a brighter future.

The government saves a couple thousand bucks but the hidden costs of children who will consequently grow up poor, eat poor food, get poor grades at school, and be more likely to have a run-in with the law are many times greater.

Utopia for Realists The Case for a Universal Basic Income Open Borders and a 15 hour Workweek

In fact, conservative criticism of the old nanny state hits the nail on the head. The current tangle of red tape keeps people trapped in poverty, it actually produces dependence.

What's Inside

Whereas employees are expected to demonstrate their strengths, social services expect claimants to prove over and over that an illness is sufficiently debilitating and that chances at getting higher are sufficiently slim. Only Denmark has ever tried to quantify the value of breastfeeding in its GDP. The GDP also does a poor job of calculating advances in knowledge.

If you were the GDP, your ideal citizen would be a drug addict who has cancer, goes through a divorce and pops fistfuls of Prozac and goes bezerk on Black Friday.

Mental illness, pollution, crime - in terms of the GDP - the more, the better. By the standard of the GDP, the worst families in America are those that actually function as families, that cook their own meals, take walks after dinner, and talk together, instead of just farming the kids out to the commercial culture.

We live in a world where the more vital your occupation - cleaning, nursing, teaching - the lower you rate in the GDP. American children spend half more time in front of the TV as they do at school. True leisure, however, is neither a luxury nor a vice. It is as vital to our brains as vitamin C is to our bodies.

Bullshit jobs. In the previous chapter, I described how we sacrificed our free time on the altar of consumerism. Most people play no part in the production of iPhone cases, in their panoply of colors, exotic shampoos containing botanical extracts, or mocker cookie crumble frappuccinos. Our addiction to consumption is enabled mostly by robots and third-world wage slaves. And although agricultural and manufacturing production capacity have grown exponentially over the past decades, employment in these industries has dropped.

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So is it really true that our overworked lifestyle all comes down to out of control consumerism? David Graeber wrote a fascinating piece that pinned the blame not on the stuff we buy but on the work we do. Jobs like telemarketer, HR manager, social media strategist, PR advisor, and a whole host of administrative positions at hospitals, universities and government offices. Bullshit jobs, Graeber calls them. A mere 62 people are richer than 3. View all 4 comments. We have lost our vision, Rutger Bregman writes, mired in old paradigms and blind to the possibilities we should be imagining.

Rutger Bregman's 'Utopia for Realists' Shows Us Why We Deserve Universal Basic Income

We could be realizing the world predicted by 20th c thinkers. Bregman begins by reminding us of how recently life was a "vale of tears," "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short," as philoso We have lost our vision, Rutger Bregman writes, mired in old paradigms and blind to the possibilities we should be imagining.

Bregman begins by reminding us of how recently life was a "vale of tears," "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short," as philosophers wrote in the 16th c. With the explosion of new technology and prosperity over the last two hundred years, humanity has achieved a standard of living that Medieval folk would consider Utopia; indoor heat and cooling, flush toilets and clean water alone would make them marvel. So would obesity from an overabundance of easily obtained food, the magical ability to protect ourselves from smallpox and polio, and paved roads we travel at 70 mph--without fear of highwaymen robberies.

Have we reached Utopia? Or is there something we can do to make life even better? How can we solve the problems that remain: fearfulness, unemployment, quality of life, poverty. The welfare state 'from a bygone era' doesn't work today. Globalization and the cost of higher education have impacted the stability of the Middle Class.

Upward mobility for the poor no longer happens. Bregman wants to "fling open the windows of our minds" to discover "a new lodestar. We have created welfare programs for those in need, which are costly and do not solve the basic problem. What happened to the expectation of the hour workweek? Why are we spending more time working, impacting our health and our families? Bregman wants us to dream new dreams and embrace ideas that can change the world for the better.

Thinking outside the box has made a difference: abolition, universal voting rights, and same-sex marriage, he reminds, were all once considered impossible. All it takes is "a single opposing voice. The basis of Bregman's new Utopia is a guaranteed basic income. He presents studies that demonstrate the success of such programs. Other changes he offers include shorter work hours, proven to increase productivity, reconsidering the importance of the Gross Domestic Product as our economic standard of success, improving quality of life, open borders, taxing capital instead of labor, and adjusting salary to a job's societal value.

At a time when productivity is a record levels, there are fewer jobs and lower salaries. There is an old saying: Insanity is doing the same thing over and expecting different results. Instead of holding more tightly to the old ways we need to envision innovation. Perhaps books like this will spur discussions and reevaluations. One can only hope. I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

I was probably misguided as I thought this book would deal predominantly with the idea of a basic income. Specifically, i was intrested in the arguments pro and against it and, preferably, an analysis how it is possible to implement, the impact of automation and which steps might be taken right now. But this book is much broader in scope, and at the same time, pretty shallow. The book is more about the current state of the world with inequality, too much work for some and no for the others, the I was probably misguided as I thought this book would deal predominantly with the idea of a basic income.

Rutger Bregman, Author of Utopia for Realists

The book is more about the current state of the world with inequality, too much work for some and no for the others, the climate change etc.. It states that we need to have some new ideology to tackle these challenges. But it does not go far enough to define this ideology.