Utopia for Realists by Rutger Bregman (Part 1)

How We can Build The Ideal World

‘A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realization of Utopias.’ Oscar Wilde

The Return of Utopia. In the past, the world was much worse than what it was today. Poverty rates have fallen and life expectancy has increased. The last 2 centuries have seen explosive growth, like nothing mankind has ever experienced. People are 250 times richer as compared to the Industrial Revolution. People used to dream of a brighter future. Modern world suffers from problems like obesity, pollution etc. Modern medicine has allowed those who have suffered to live again. Driverless cars are on our roads. Internet access and smartphones are getting more widespread. Vaccines are useful to prevent diseases and pre-mature death. In terms of literacy, humans are at our all-time high. Although everything seems good, we may lack a purpose in life. We live in a capitalist and consumer driven society. How can we improve our current state? A common utopia is one of blueprints, where dissension is not tolerated. Transgressions are not allowed and will be punished. Why are we working long hours than before even though we are richer now. To many, utopias turn out into dystopias and nightmares. We crave freedom, but it some ways, it is an empty freedom. We spend too much on health care. The advertisers and mass media benefit from over consumption. This is the dystopia we are living in. We are pampered too much. We believed in big dreams in the past but we know that reality is very different. We are becoming more anxious over time. We are becoming more and more alike. There are other ways to progress other than via capitalism. Our utopia will start small and grow from there. Even though things are well, we need to constantly improve.

And the ad industry encourages us to spend money we don’t have on junk we don’t need in order to impress people we can’t stand. – Rutger Bregman

If success is a choice, then so is failure. Lost your job? You should have worked harder. Sick? You must not be leading a healthy lifestyle. Unhappy? Take a pill. – Rutger Bregman

Why We Should Give Free Money to Everyone. Feeding the homeless might be cheaper than locking them in jail or providing social services. One other way is to give them money. This is ironic, but it might work. How they spend it is up to them. The fact is that most of them were actually prudent in their spending. Some even used the money for personal growth. Giving money to them might be the most efficient way to help them. Free money doesn’t make people lazy. This has been proved by different studies. This has been proved in Namibia and Malawi. This might be superior to spending money on food etc. You have the freedom to buy want you need. This was already mentioned in Thomas More in his book in 1516. The dream is for all to have a universal basic income for everyone. Canada experimented with this idea in the 1970s. Mincome, a city in Canada, worked well under this model. There is a fear that people would be lazy if they didn’t work. There is little evidence that people would be lazy if they had a basic sum of money each month. President Nixon pushed for it in the past, but it often got rejected by the Senate. Many years back, democracy seemed a utopia, but it has worked. The benefit of giving people a basic income is that the poor can take on jobs which can give them growth. This should be the aim of capitalism.

Poverty is fundamentally about a lack of cash. It’s not about stupidity. You can’t pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you have no boots. – Joseph Hanlon

There is overwhelming evidence to suggest that the vast majority of people actually want to work, whether they need to or not. In fact, not having a job makes us deeply unhappy. – Rutger Bregman

So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors. The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living. – Richard Buckminster Fuller

The End of Poverty. A new casino opened in 1997. It was Harrah’s Cherokee. It was run by Cherokee Indians. Organized crime did not increase. Those kids who grew up in poverty tended to have behavioral problems. Which was the cause, and which was the effect? Costello’s subjects who were lifted out of poverty had much lesser behavioral problems. Money from the casino earnings were given to needy families. The tribe ended up thriving after the casino earnings. Genes can’t be undone. Poverty can. Why do the poor tend to make dumb decisions? Poverty is something the individual has to overcome on their own. In economics, always everything revolves around scarcity. Poor people find food scarce, so they need to find an incredible way to make ends meet and that is a good thing. You can’t take a break from poverty. It’s all about the context. You can’t take a break from poverty, unlike a situation where you are busy at work. We all need to increase our gross domestic mental bandwidth. Getting out of poverty is more important than education. One solution is to give needy students a hand with financial aid paperwork. Does money enable you to be happy and healthy? Inequality is a big issue in modern society. Relative poverty is very important because like to compare themselves with others. Social mobility goes up when inequality goes up. Even rich people might not feel good if the inequality in their country is too high. Providing free apartments are also useful, as it helps to get homeless people off the streets. Homelessness can certainly be solved. We need to address the root cause, not the symptom.

Scarcity consumes you. You’re less able to focus on other things that are also important to you. – Eldar Shafir

The effect of poverty lowers your IQ by around 13 or 14 points. That’s comparable to losing a night’s sleep or the long term effects of alcohol. – Eldar Shafir

If you’d like to have more money, time, friends, or food, you’re more likely to experience a sense of scarcity. And the things you want are determined to a large extent by what people around you have. – Rutger Bregman

Poverty is a great enemy to human happiness; it certainly destroys liberty, and it makes some virtues impracticable, and others extremely difficult. – Samuel Johnson

The Bizarre Tale of President Nixon and His Basic Income Bill. Historians have more to give us. We should look and learn from history as much as possible. We shall look at Richard Nixon. He was forced to resign after the Watergate scandal in 1974. There were many who opposed his plan of giving free money to everyone. Anderson managed to change Nixon’s mind. The Speenhamland system failed badly in the 19th century England. Why did the President switch his mind? However, his message of wanting to fight laziness among the poor caused people to turn against the idea of basic income. Speenhamland appeared to be successful initially. In the fact, people were convinced that population growth will exceed food production. However, it was a disaster because of a few reasons. Marx believed that a revolution was needed to bring people out of poverty, not a basic income. Modern historians have realized that the results from Speenhamland might not be reliably measured. The consensus that the poor were becoming more lazy might be untrue. The Royal Commission Report changed Nixon’s decision. The truth of population growth indefinitely might not hold true. In 1834, the Speenhamland system was dismantled. The idea of a self-regulating market that will liberate the poor was still a dream. There are some scholars who believe that Speenhamland was a success. Things could have been handled so much better. The idea of a welfare state was hit badly as a result of Speenhamland. People who are poor only thing about the here and now and not the future.

The gross national product…measures everything…except that which makes life worthwhile. – Robert F. Kennedy

New Figures for a New Era. The Japan earthquake on Mar 11, 2011 wrecked havoc on the Japanese economy. However, the economy recovered miraculously fast. It had a silver lining for GDP. Rebuilding has a huge impetus for the government. However, we shouldn’t welcome these disasters. GDP does not measure the intangible benefits to society. It does not measure things like community service, clean air etc. Also, things like domestic workers are not measured in the GDP. Denmark has tried to quantify the value of breastfeeding in its GDP. GDP does not measure advances in technology. The higher the social problems, the more it will contribute to GDP. In the past, banks took up a huge slice of GDP due to their risk taking culture. Are we placing too much emphasis on GDP? Almost all politicians believe that growth is good for employment and the economy. The idea of GDP was already mooted in the 1800s. Adam Smith believed that those who worked in services industry produced nothing at all. Alfred Marshall realized that it was not so much the nature of products that mattered, but the price. However, accurate calculations on GDP only existed in the 1900s. It was essentially invented by a Russian professor named Simon Kuznets in 1932. It would be an excellent yardstick for any country. The GDP could give an overall picture of the economy. Even today, many professors do not understand how GDP works. GDP measures all the activity within its borders (including by foreign enterprises). GDP was very useful after a war. There are many other useful statistics that can serve us better than GDP. Today, the economy is so much more complicated than just some production numbers. In Bhutan, a gross national happiness index was suggested. Two possible candidates might be the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) or the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare (ISEW). The wealthier a country is, the more difficult it is to measure that wealth. In Europe, the governments subsidize domains where productivity can’t be leveraged. The cost of health care is bound to increase. We will need indications to track life, eg. Community service, social cohesion, jobs, knowledge etc. We need to rethink how we relook at growth?

Productivity is for robots. Humans excel at wasting time, experimenting, playing, creating, and exploring. – Kevin Kelly


A Brief Guide to World Domination by Chris Guillebeau (How to Live in a Remarkable Life in a Conventional World)

You don’t have to live life the way other people expect you to. Step outside your comfort zone. Tell your friends crazy ideas and see who supports you. Those are your true friends. Consider the broader concerns of humanity. What do you want to get out of life? What else can I offer the world that no one else can? Set goals. Improve the lives of others. Repay those who have helped you succeed. Find a good way to deal with gatekeepers and critics as they will stand in your way. Do not accept mediocrity. Be passionate about your cause. Give it your all. Use the power of ‘weak ties’. The more time you spend on your goals, the better. Be remarkable. Plan a timeline for your goals as well.