Utopia for Realists by Rutger Bregman (Part 2)

A Fifteen Hour Workweek. Leisure time is scarce in modern society, but why is that so? By 2030, Keynes predicted that mankind would have trouble filling up their spare time. Earlier, Benjamin Franklin predicted that we would work 4 hour days only. Employers were not keen to let their employees work for so short hours everyday. Henry Ford discovered that a shorter work week made employees more productive. In 1938, legislation to protect the 5 day workweek was passed. After WWII, leisure time continued to rise. It was predicted that machines would do all the work in future. Working would only be reserved for the elite. The spread of boredom might be a concern for Mankind. There was a concern that too much free time would bring about boredom and idleness. Are scientists prediction of what life would be like in 2062 come true? The irony is that in modern society, the working week is actually growing. It has to do with the feminist revolution. Parenting is a lot more time-intensive nowadays. The smartphone might even lead to the ordinary worker working even longer hours. Consumption has increased a lot more recently. Would our standard of living decrease if we work less? Productivity and long work hours do not go hand in hand. Even in the modern society, 40 hour workweeks might be too much. Research has shown that 6 hours per day is optimum. Working less solves the problem of stress and leads to increased levels of happiness. It might solve climate change and reduce the number of accidents too. It might address unemployment too. Paternity leave is extremely important nowadays. It might address the issue of aging population too. Nowadays, people tend to show off if they are busy. There is not enough paid work to go around. Is the strategy of shorter working hours what we all want? The answer is yes. The countries with the shortest workweeks have the largest number of volunteers and social capital. We all are capable of handling the good life.

It’s quite simple, really. Time is money. Economic growth can yield either more leisure or more consumption. – Rutger Bregman

It is worth noting, however, that the line between work and leisure has blurred in recent times. Work is now often perceived as a kind of hobby, or even as the very crux of our identity. – Rutger Bregman

There’s not a person on Earth who on their deathbed thinks, “Had I only put in a few more hours at the office or sat in front of the tube some more.” – Rutger Bregman

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

Why It Doesn’t Pay to Be a Banker. The trash workers went on strike. The streets were extremely stinky. It actually pays to strike. These are essential services which actually do much good to others. However, wall street traders don’t do much. These are the jobs that simply shift money around. Now, in modern society, more people are able to earn without contributing anything tangible to society. Ireland did okay without the bankers for 6 months. It did not have a debilitating impact on daily life. Creating complex financial products actually destroys wealth. Why are we working harder than ever before? Many people admit that they are doing bullshit jobs. Banking is very exclusive to the elite few. Some people feel that their job had no meaning and significance. This is a problem with the capitalist society. The modern society is concerned with nothing but profit. Now, it is all about milking the cash without innovation. Just imagine how society will be if we just focused on creating things of value. It does not mean that you earn much, it automatically means you are contributing to society. In modern times, more people have sought to move to banking. We need to tax higher earners even more. A teacher has a direct hand in shaping the future. We need to intervene at the classroom level. Which knowledge and skills do we want in our children in 2030? A shorter work week allows us to spend more time on ourselves. Society determines what has real value. After the strike, the garage collectors had a significant pay increase.

Making money without creating anything of value is anything but easy. It takes talent, ambition, and brains. And the banking world is brimming with clever minds. – Rutger Bregman

The goal of the future is full unemployment, so we can play. – Arthur C. Clarke

Race Against the Machine. Machines help to eliminate certain jobs. Robots should help to reduce the average number of working hours. People are educated, but your skills might be superfluous after a while. Moore realized the power of computers and that it would soon surpass humans. Machines help in the transportation sector, such as container shipping. The ratio of capital to labour is not constant. Technology has been advancing at an astounding rate. Who’s profiting from this? There are fewer winners as time passes. Inequality has been increasing in developed countries. Many jobs are at risk to be overtaken by machines. It will come in the next 20 years. That are some that argue that automation will create new jobs. Productivity is at record levels in the 2000s. Even the most modern of computers can defeat chess masters. Robots can hone our mental capacities. Automated cars might take over drivers on the roads soon. By 2029, it is predicted that computers will be as intelligent as people. There is no limit for machine computing power. In 1811, some men declared a war on machines, but the machines won. The whole point of robots is for them to do tasks that humans would rather not do themselves. How can we compete against the machine? It seems like there is limited hope and that inequality will continue to increase. Should we continue to focus on education? However, the low-hanging fruit has already been plucked. Maybe a solution is to bring a hammer. Humans still have the ultimate say as to how to shape our destiny. We need a massive redistribution of income.

The reality is that it takes fewer and fewer people to create a successful business, meaning that when a business succeeds, fewer and fewer people benefit. – Rutger Bregman

The factory of the future will have only two employees, a man and a dog. The man will be there to feed the dog. The dog will be there to keep the man from touching the equipment. – Popular joke among economists

Beyond the Gates of the Land of Plenty. Should we try to give everyone on Earth the joys of the Land of Plenty? We spend a lot of money on developmental aid. Nobody knows whether it has helped much or not. Sometimes, the usage can be different than what was intended. Is the remedy worse than the disease? The first form of aid happened in 1998. Studies have shown that providing free textbooks does not improve scores. We all should aim to take the guess work out of policy making. Is it better to give out free mosquito nets or to sell them? Even microcredit has not been proven effective at combating poverty and illness. Handing out cash is better. However, not everything is measurable. There are the 3 Is of development and they are ideology, ignorance and inertia. There needs to be strong measures against tax evasion especially in poor countries. Opening the gates is one way to give the poor a chance. After the war, countries protected their borders tightly. The world is wide open except for people. Opening borders to labour would boost wealth tremendously. The inhabitants of the Land of Plenty are filthy rich. We turn away refugees way too easily. Americans earn a lot more than their South American counterparts. Opening the borders is one of our best strategies against poverty. However, people often lament that by doing so, you will bringing terrorists in. The risk of terrorism is low. Immigration actually reduces in a decline of terrorist activities. They are not all criminals. There is practically zero correlation between ethnic background and crime. They will not undermine social cohesion too. Diversity cannot be used to blame cohesion in society. There is an argument that foreigner influx can help create more employment opportunities. Will cheap immigrant labor force wages down? A think tank has showed that immigration has virtually no effect on wages. It is not true that foreigners are too lazy to work. Immigrants actually take less advantage of public assistance. Governments can set criteria for them and make it harder for them to get PR. One way is to create language and culture tests. Open borders actually promote immigrant return. Opening the borders is not something we can do overnight. Just cracking the door around migration will help us tremendously.

How Ideas Change the World. There were some people who believed that the world would end on Dec 21, 1954. This was a prophecy that failed. Humans tend to suffer from cognitive dissonance, where people recalibrate reality rather than amend their worldview. Humans tend to stubborn. The more educated you are, the more unwilling you will be to change. Can new ideas like a universal basic income truly change the world? However, people’s ideas can indeed change over time. Sometimes, a single opposing voice can make all the difference. Had we invested too much in our old convictions? There is a lot we can learn from Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman. There are lessons we can learn from Neoliberalism. The world is getting richer and safer. It is okay to dream and keep plugging away.

People are most likely to change their opinions if you confront them with new and disagreeable facts as directly as possible. – Rutger Bregman

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


The Fix by Jonathan Tepperman (Part 1)

How Nations Survive and Thrive in a World in Decline

Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it, misdiagnosing it, and then misapplying the wrong remedies. – Groucho Marx

Introduction. This book is about success stories which the author has seen for himself. This is about finding solutions in an uncertain world. It is possible to overcome the problems if the right strategies are adopted. The negative news in the media can easily overwhelm you. Life is difficult and some of us have problems to make ends meet. Many Americans are not optimistic about the economy. After 2008, things seemed to go downhill. Even in Russia, there is negative economic growth rate now. In 2011, there was conflict in the Middle East. The US-Iran nuclear deal has been a disaster. Growth is predicted to slow down. Greece almost went bankrupt, the EU is no longer as united as before. ISIS is gaining ground again. Many refugees are heading to Europe. China’s economy is also slowing down. The emerging-market growth rate from 7.4% to 3.8% between 2010 and 2015. The liberal, rules based global order doesn’t seem to be working all that well now. A lot of our global failures is due to the failure of politicians to lead. We need to understand the problems actually and notice that they can be fixed. The stories in the book will show that it is indeed possible to solve. The first problem is inequality. It can certainly pose a lot of problems for us. The income gap in the US is widening and the poor get more disgruntled. The solution is to grow the economy in the past. A lot of corporate profits might be ending up in the hands of the rich. The second big issue is immigration. Many of the displaced are heading to Europe. Trump denounced immigration in a harsh manner. Attacking immigrants might not be the best solution overall. A lot of bright Americans are not retained by their country. The fact is that there is little evidence that immigrants cause a lot of trouble. Although Germany has let refugees in, they are not given the support to integrate in society and they end up causing trouble in the end. The third big issue is Islamic extremism. The Syrian rebel forces were allowed to grow and the Islamic State was formed. The Jihadists seem to be expanded in recent years. Civil War is the next big issue to hit us. Iraq is now in a big mess after the US troops pulled out. There are other civil wars in Africa, Syria etc too. Corruption is the next big issue to face us. Corruption tends to affect both poor and rich countries alike. This often leaves the poor at a disadvantage. It undermines the trust in the government and the system of rule. The Resource Curse is our next big issue (6th). Africa is known to have a lot of untapped natural resources. However, will they be able to handle this wealth? They might invest in the wrong things that do not aid the people. It is also common for resource-rich countries to be run by dictators as you can bribe your people to win yourself votes. Energy is also a big concern. There was a shale revolution in recent years. A lot of the countries that have shale are unlikely going to tap on them. The next big issue is that of the Middle-Income Trap. It is hard to reach the developed country status as there needs to be productivity increases. It might sound easy, but politicians are not up to the task. Many countries know what to do, but executing it is hard. The next major problem is gridlock I. Infighting among political parties in Mexico, Italy etc have caused many problems. Even though India’s Modi is good, he is still facing gridlocks. Despite all the problems in the World, it is not wise to abandon hope. We just need to look for the right fix.

Profits to the People (How Brazil Spreads its Wealth). How did the former Brazil’s president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, turn inequality into a manageable problem? Economic growth is not working the way it is used to. Thomas Piketty suggested a global wealth tax. However, the rich can get around paying tax and it might get controversial. How did Brazil do it? It is hard to imagine Brazil as a model for anything. Brazil is blessed with resources and a young population. Many are living on less than $2 a day. However, by 2011, its economy was growing by 4% a year. Inequality fell as well. Lula had a 87% approval in 2012. Lula had humble beginnings. He worked hard and climbed in the Sao Bernardo Metalworks. Later, he founded the leftist Workers’ Party. He lost the president election 3 times. Many people didn’t trust him at the start and Brazil was in shambles in 2002. However, his predecessor, Cardoso’s structural reforms were not popular. Lula listened closely to the ground and understood the problems people faced. He cut spending and reduced budget deficit and demanded a budget surplus when he took officer in 2003. Within 6 months, their bond value had risen by 20%. Now, he launched a social welfare campaign. His programme handed people money instead of goods or services. These were effect at eradicating poverty. Many denounced the idea as giving the poor dietary staples would be more practical. The food programme launched in the past was a flop as corruption was rife. It was shown that many families did not squander the money. The scheme would be targeted at those in extreme poverty. However, it came with conditions, like parents needed to send kids to school, women needed to go for checkups etc. The critics thought that the money would be better used to build schools etc. There was also concern for welfare dependency. He made the public feel that they ‘earned’ the cash by fulfilling the conditions. Lula had issues dealing with non-compliance with conditions. Also, he had to deal with undeserving candidates applying to the scheme. It worked after he set up a ministry to deal with these issues. The trick was to imposing conditions for assistance. The programme does not give out excessive amounts of money, just enough for the family to get by. It is a cheap antipoverty programme. It was certainly an innovative welfare program. Lula also adopted conservative macroeconomic policies. He offered large firms cut-rate loans. He was not upset that the rich got richer. He wanted the greatest good for all. The results of his policies were great. Bolsa Familia, the social welfare programme, worked wonders. In addition, vaccination rates are increasing, infant mortality is dropping etc. The poorest Brazilians are also more optimistic about their futures. The money was paid directly to the beneficiary, with no intermediary. The rich do not care about the programme as it is run cheaply. Even in 2006, when Lula was allegedly accused of corruption, he still won. Lula was an everyday man who could relate to the poor. However, despite this, there are still 28 million Brazilians living in poverty. The good thing is that the payments given out are quite low and people are still incentivized to work. Many of the international media have lauded this programme as being successful. Many other developing countries are also trying to learn from Bolsa Familia.

If there’s one thing I’m not ashamed of, it’s profit. But I want people to know that my philosophy, at heart, is that of a mother. No one is fairer than a mother. Even if she has 300 kids, she will treat them all equally. That’s what I used to say to the Brazilian people: that I govern for all. – Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva

Let the Right Ones In (Canada’s Immigration Revolution). The middle of the last century was turbulent indeed. In the 1940s, Canada were strict with their immigration policies. Justin Trudeau is their new PM. They took in Syrian asylum seekers. Canada has one of the highest immigration rates in the world. More than 20% of their population is foreign born. People from the Philippines, China and India are there too. Many of their residents don’t mind. There is sufficient public support. There has not been anti-immigrant riots in the last half a century. The government has been good at convincing the people that immigration is a necessity and is good. Pierre Elliott Trudeau was PM from 1968 to 1984. He was extremely charming and smart. He studied in the UK at LSE and gained a holistic picture of the world. The French militant group caused havoc in Quebec in 1967. Trudeau took power in 1968. Trudeau transformed Canada from a bi-national one to a multicultural one. The two language policy of French and English won’t cut it. He wanted to treat the minorities better. He also set up the Human Rights Commission in 1978. He wanted to create a distinctly Canadian identity. Some politicians in Europe have denounced multi-cultural policies. For Trudeau, he still wanted to keep the native and core culture intact. There were two problems: cultural divide and the assimilation of immigrants. It is the world’s second largest state by landmass. There was also a push by the government to increase its population due to the large land mass. In addition, many workers were moving to the US from Canada. In the 1940s, Asians were largely not accepted. In 1962, Canada abandoned ethnicity as a basis for evaluating immigrants. However, Ottawa was slow to adopt this new stance and there were still issues. Later on, the point system was created based on 9 criteria: education, age, fluency in English etc. More non-Europeans entered the country. In the US, immigration still centers on family reunification as the primary entry criteria. However, in Canada, it was different. Ottawa now focuses on formal education. Trudeau oversaw the development of Charter of Rights and Freedoms. All these policies have helped avoid the backlash that modern economies have faced in recent years. Indeed, the immigrants rely less on welfare and their employment rate is also highest in the OECD. This definitely helped to overcome the shrinking and aging workforce. Many see immigration as a way to strengthen nation’s identity. Brits are very hostile towards immigration. The immigration story of Canada has a lot to do with pragmatism and necessity than idealism. The US should study Canada’s success story

There cannot be one cultural policy for Canadians of British and French origin, another for the original peoples, and yet a third for all others. – Jonathan Tepperman

Canada has the highest naturalization rate in the world, with 85% of eligible permanent residents becoming citizens. That’s important because citizens are more likely than guests to invest in their new homeland and be welcomed for doing so. – Jonathan Tepperman

Kill Them With Kindness (How Indonesia Crushed and Co-opted Its Islamic Extremists). In 1998, Indonesia tossed their leader out of office. It has more than 10000 islands. Suharto was a tyrant, but at least he was competent. He kept the economy growing at 7% per annum during his 30 year reign. Although it is a Muslim state, where 90% of the people are Muslims, he crushed those who tried to make it more Islamic. People feared that Islamist militias would start bombing the place. Now, Indonesia is a stable democracy. Terror attacks are rare. The majority do not believe in extremism, unlike in the Middle East. They are close to eliminating the threat of extremist violence. Islam was never imposed in Indonesia in the past. The people are more open minded. The Islamist political parties are also not competent. The irony thing is that as the population became more devout, Islamic extremism declined. Although people want to embrace sharia law, they don’t like the way it is being enforced. Abdurrahman Wahid, Megawati Sukarnoputri, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono managed to do a good job on this front. They all wanted to consolidate the country’s fragile freedoms. The leaders wanted to seem popular by appealing to the common Man. Wahid was a sick old man, but his pluralistic policies were lauded. Megawati was related to Sukarno and didn’t tackle the issues well. However, she got the army out of politics. Yodhoyono was a democrat at heart, despite being an Army General. SBY also protected the minorities and guarded against discrimination. He also actively eradicated corruption. He launched major anti-poverty campaigns. Between 2006 and 2011, Indonesia did very well and doubled exports. Indonesia also learnt that attempts to eliminate Islamic parties like in Egypt have failed. They invited some of these parties into their coalition and cabinet. This was a very intelligent move. Megawati reacted to the Bali bombings and set up an anti-terror unit. It was called Detachment 88. Many of the JI members have been killed or captured. Also, they have been able to dig information out of the criminals. Also, they have tried to rehabilitate those who can be helped. Those prisoners who co-operate are rewarded as well. In July 2014, Joko Widodo was elected as President. He seems even more democratic than SBY and seems willing to fight extremism too. He also doesn’t have an elite background. He is also very into technology and knows the benefits of it. Jokowi is often compared to Obama, who doesn’t have a lot of national and international experience. He is a symbol of hope.

Learn to Live with It (Rwanda’s Wrenching Reconciliation). Rwanda’s Hutu majority tried to exterminate the country’s Tutsi minority. It happened in 1994. Kagame was the then leader of Rwandan Patriotic Front, a rebel army who was fighting the Hutu-led government. The Inkotanyi, Tutsi insurgents, managed to prevail. Rwanda was decimated by the war. Many of the Tutsis were slaughtered. Rwanda is one of the world’s poorest countries. Many of them were suffering from post-traumatic stress as well. The President had to heal the situation and restore order to Rwanda. The government had to deal with genocides. Kagame had to deal with the genocide suspects. There were not enough jails to house these people. Trials alone were not enough, and justice had to be served. In addition, it would not help the victims in somehow forgiving their perpetuators. Kagame was a real pragmatist. The strategy for recovery had 4 parts. The first was that RPF would establish a strong force and build a unified garrison state and control the country. Next, the government would invest in economic growth and build institutions. This included boosting human capital and providing free health care. Corruption was also stamped out. Kagame also tried to turn Rwanda into a race-blind nation. The government created 12 thousand village tribunals to hear the cases. The trials would not last for many days. It would promote both justice and reconciliation, not one or the other. Communities could select their judges, based on their integrity levels. Thus, the people had a say. Gacaca was an ambitious transitional justice projects. Kagame was criticized as many criminals managed to get away with a lighter sentence if they were co-operative. In addition, the judges were not trained. Gacaca was not a perfect system, but they managed to see many cases and speed up the process. It was a good interim measure given the severity of the situation. The tribunals also encouraged engagement between the victims and perpetuators. It also emphasized community service as a form of rehabilitation. The country is in much better shape now. Many people have been lifted out of poverty. A vast majority of Rwandans supported Gacaca. Hutus and Tutsis now live peacefully together. It was a form of enforced unity, but it works I guess. Kagame has become a polarizing figure in the last few years. His critics target his human rights record and intolerance for dissent. His government has been accused of killing Hutu soldiers and civilians. Many nations can learn from Rwanda after their civil war. Usually after a civil war, it helps to take a more radical approach. Rwanda invented a solution, Gacaca, which was tailor made to their own organization. That was remarkable indeed.