Utopia for realists and how we can get there

I recently read « Utopia for realists and How we can get there » by Rutger Bregman. I read this book even if I am already a convinced person that the utopia he is describing is the future. Indeed, I do believe that our current economic model is changing for a more flexible and shorten workweek, a more sustainable way of production and consumption, a better recognition of social, education and health jobs, a universal basic income and an open border world.

As the author, I do believe we need to recreate a collective future where we can imagine ourself and the future generations living in. To do so we need to be creative and imaginative to create this future society and then have a common goal to care about and fight for it. « We need a new lodestar, a new map of the world that once again includes a distant, uncharted continent – « Utopia ». By this I don’t mean the rigid blueprints that utopian fanatics try to shove down our throats with their theocracies to their five-year plans – they only subordinate real people to servant dreams. » The utopia, he is describing in this book, is clear, well-explained and well-documented thanks to a lot of studies and experiments that help making this utopia realistic.

A universal basic income

The author is decomposing all stereotypes surrounding the idea of giving money to poor people like it will only create more laziness. On the contrary, experiments have showed that only poor people really know what they need and finally use the money efficiently by investing it in different projects or personal purpose (for example in business or in education). The nonprofit organisation GiveDireclty is already putting this idea in action and with clear results of the success.

« The great thing about money is that people can use it to buy things they need instead of things that self-appointed expert think they need. And, as it happens, there is one category of product which poor people do not spend their free money on, and that’s alcohol and tobacco.« 

The idea of universal basic income is not new and many economists did believe in it and that it will be implemented in a large scale one day (Thomas More, Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman). And the time to really debate and implement it has come.

« Rien n’est plus puissant qu’une idée dont l’heure est venue » Victor Hugo (« Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come. »)

According to Albert Hirschman, « utopias are initially attacked on three grounds: futility (it’s not possible), danger (the risks are too great), and perversity (it will degenerate into dystopia)« . He also said that « as soon as a utopia becomes a reality, it often comes to been seen utterly commonplace. » As democracy or the end of slavery which was once considered as an utopia is now considered as normal. With concrete analysis, data and research, the author will break down those 3 grounds for the universal income, still considered as a crazy idea.

« If we want to change the world, we need to be unrealistic, unreasonable and impossible. Remember: those who called for the abolition of slavery, for suffrage for women, and for same-sex marriage were also once branded lunatics. Until history proved them right ».

All progress starts small but the idea is to start talking about it and think differently. For example, we need to consider new figures as we have only based our economy with the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) but this is not enough and many things are missing in this calculation (« the things that we cannot see » according Frédéric Bastiat). Indeed, as we know it doesn’t take into consideration for example inequality, environmental damage, social and community services… According to the author, we need to re-think about the meaning of growth and progress and what is important to us as a society and then we will be able to implement and improve our current figures and not only focus on quantity. Even the creator of the GDP, Simon Kuznets explained that « Distinctions must be kept in mind between quantity and quality of growth, between costs and returns, and between the short and long turn. Goals for more growth should specify more growth of what and for what. »

A 15 hours workweek

The author redraws the economic history of workers and the constant reduction of working hours where the idea has always been to increase leisure. But finally « economic growth was translating not into more leisure, but into more stuff « . Plus, it didn’t lead to more time for leisure, for family and meaningful activities but to more stress, pressure and meaningless jobs also called « bullshit jobs« .

About the feminist revolution who normally should have lead men to work less and contribute more to all the unpaid work, women are now working much more than men when paid and unpaid work are added together. This is summarised in the following quote: « My grandma didn’t have the vote, my mom didn’t have the pills and I don’t have any time ».

« The time has come to redefine our concept of « work ». When I call for a shorter workweek, I’m not pushing for long, lethargic weekends. I’m calling for us to spend more times on the things that truly matter to us. A few years ago, Australian writer Bronnie Ware published a book titled The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, about patients she had tended during her nursing career. And guess what? No one said he or she would liked to pay closer attention to coworkers’ PowerPoint presentations or to have brainstormed a little more on disruptive co-creation in the network society. The biggest regret was: « I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. » Number two: « I wish I didn’t work so hard. » »

Indeed, countries from « The Land of Plenty » are becoming richer and richer, jobs are more and more meaningless and some have already been replaced by machines and robots. The author also argued the idea of taxing capital and robots instead of labor. These are some of the first steps towards a shorten workweek that will allow people to spend more time in things that truly matter to them. And this could be developing a business project, taking care of a loved one, doing volunteering work…

« Work is the refuge of people who have nothing better to do. » Oscar Wilde

An open border world

This utopia is nice for « The Land of Plenty » but what about poorest countries. Here Rutger includes in this utopia, the idea of open-border not only for goods but also for everyone. Indeed, the world is wide open for information thanks to the Internet, for capitals and goods but not people. And he shows that « the estimated growth in « gross worldwide product » would be in the range of 67% to 147% » depending on the level of movement. Once again, with data and clear studies, Rutger is responding to every assumption about immigration as « they’re all criminals », « they’ll take our jobs », « they’ll never go back »… As John Maynard Keynes said « the difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones.« 

« Utopia is on the horizon. I move two steps closer; it moves two steps further away. I walk another ten steps and the horizon runs ten steps further away. As much as I may walk, I’ll never reach it. So what’s the point of utopia? The point is this: to keep walking. » Eduardo Galeano

So basically, I totally recommend you to read this book or if you want to listen to the author and have a better idea of his book, here a TED conference « Poverty isn’t a lack of character; it’s a lack of cash » :

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