Utopia for Realists by Rutger Bregman
Most of the highly paid jobs in our new economy are bullsh*t jobs. The best and the brightest are paid huge amounts of money, yet they don’t create anything of value. Rutger Bregman is a young Dutch academic; his new book is full of such provocative bombshells. In the last 200 years, we’ve achieved a lot. In 1820, 94% of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty; today that number is under 10%. But we have stopped dreaming of a better world; we have become pessimistic and insular. The Trump phenomenon is an example of that, as is Brexit, Marie Le Pen and here, Pauline Hanson.
As we’ve become wealthier, inequity and disruption have grown. In 1957, economist Nicholas Kaldor outlined his six ‘facts’ of economic growth: the first was that 67% of a country’s income goes to employees and 33% to the owners of capital. Today only 58% goes to labour. Innovation is destroying jobs, often for no real benefit to the community as a whole. Is the fact that Amazon can offer same-day delivery of an X-Box while destroying millions of retail jobs beneficial? Despite the fact that there have been huge advances, there are still large pockets of poverty in Western economies, still hundreds of millions living in poverty overseas, and in our western societies, despite technological advances, many of us are working longer and for shrinking real wages.
Bregman offers three radical solutions and backs them up with solid research and examples, in a style that is accessible and thought-provoking. The first is to end poverty by instituting a basic income for everybody, no strings attached. He cites a number of cases where this has been done and the results have been cheaper and more effective than our ‘strings attached’ welfare systems. The second is to reduce the work week to 15 hours; we could do this and produce the same amount as we do now and have more productive, happier and cohesive societies. And, finally, we should have open borders; with open borders, he argues, we would increase global wealth by $65 trillion dollars and go a long way to eliminating global poverty.
Utopia for Realists is a must-read for anyone interested in how we live; you may not agree with all of it, you may dismiss it as fantasy, but you will certainly be inspired by it to think!
Mark Rubbo is the Managing Director of Readings.