Utopia for Realists


This book was a recent recommendation from Dr Kailash Nadh. A small but heavy book, that is engaging and well researched. Rutger Bregman has done a thorough job of making arguments for three major policy ideas whose time has come in the land of plenty that we live in (as compared to a human living a century ago).

  • Universal Basic Income
  • Reducing Working Hours
  • Open Borders

Universal Basic Income or UBI, might sound ludicrous at the first glance, but numerous studies and on-field experiments have time and again shown that the way ahead for the welfare state might be direct money transfer (not just benefits). The basis of the argument for UBI stems from the dignity given to recipients of the no-strings-attached benefits leading to a more efficient
and effective utilization of the safety net.

The second policy of reducing working hours eventually stems from the current state of “Bullshit Jobs” that produce nothing of value but just move value around. He mentions Keynes’s prediction that soon we will have 15-hour work weeks based on an interpolation of the work hours at the time of writing his study. He critiques the measure of economic progress used in this era, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), a perfectly reasonable measure nonetheless created during wartime when it was not unreasonable to borrow from the future. A quote from the book on where all the time has gone when productivity has skyrocketed.

It’s quite simple really. Time is money. Economic growth can yield either more leisure or more consumption. From 1850 until 1980, we got both, but since then it is mostly consumption that has increased. Even where real incomes have stayed the same and inequality has exploded, the consumption craze has continued, but on credit.

The only way to solve this would be to legally reduce the working hours and make multiple people share the work and give everyone more time for leisure. He even goes on to mention how this could end up solving a lot of issues plaguing our society such as inequality between the sexes.

Also, he suggests taxing ventures such as banking and hedge funds that move value around and rather give incentives such as salary hikes or grants to people to take up careers that are useful for the society like research, teaching, maintaining cities, etc.

His third idea, of open borders, is a critique of what he calls “apartheid on a global scale” that has been committed by closing down borders. It is a fact that there is a huge disparity in pay and lifestyle around the world. He mentions that economists predict an approximate > 2-fold increase in global prosperity if the world were to open its borders today and allow the free movement of human capital.

He ends it with a final note on ideas. How ideas like Neo-Liberalism changed and mobilized the world at a time of crisis. It made me realize that the only way for realists to achieve the utopia we crave for, we must discuss these ideas in the open. It may be through talking about these in your workplace, discussing with friends and family, or publicly writing on them. Makes you wonder, maybe we are living in a revolutionary time.

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