Utopia for Realists: And How We Can Get There Hardcover – 5 Mar 2017
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If you're bored with hackneyed debates, decades-old right-wing and left-wing clichés, you may enjoy the bold thinking, fresh ideas, lively prose, and evidence-based arguments in Utopia for Realists (Steven Pinker, author of 'The Language Instinct')
In this surprising, accessible and often counterintuitive book Bregman explores some brilliant but simple ideas for making a better world (Brian Eno)
This is a Read Now book. Nothing dystopian about this one: a young, practical set of ideas for how the next generation can do better (Jeanette Winterson)
If you're fed up with moaning, you owe it to yourself to read this book (Evening Standard)
Where is the vision, the ambition, the belief? Into this bleak picture drops a book and an author bristling with hope, optimism and answers. Utopia for Realists has taken Holland by storm and could yet revitalise progressive thought around the globe.
Better than that, though, it is not a dry, statistical analysis - although he doesn't shy from solid data - but a book written with verve, wit and imagination. The effect is charmingly persuasive...
Bregman has a vision. And it's a pretty clear one.
The result is a hybrid that's reminiscent of the New Yorker's Malcolm Gladwell: lots of compelling anecdotes, backed up with information from an array of surveys and research papers delivered in a tremendously readable style.
But there's also an extra layer of idealism with Bregman, a belief that people are essentially good and that all it requires is a rational analysis of the facts and good governance to make the most profound and lasting changes.
Yes, he is a utopian, but a practical one. He knows there are many problems to overcome, but the first and toughest is the belief that things can change. In that he has made a major contribution. Listen out for Rutger Bregman. He has a big future shaping the future(Andrew Anthony Observer)
It's a wonderful, well-written book, easily the crispest and least dry explanation of the research and history behind basic income as an idea I've seen in print. The sixth chapter, on the bizarre history of Richard Nixon's 1970 plan for a negative income tax, is worth the price of admission alone (Vox)
I was moved and convinced by Bregman saying we might not achieve Utopia but could find solace in working towards a fairer world ... This book is energetic, passionate and rigorously intelligent. His commonsensical ideas deserve to be gratefully welcomed (Jake Kerridge Sunday Express)
You may not dream the same dreams as Bregman - but he invites you to take dreaming seriously. For that alone, this book is worth a read (Will Hutton Observer)
This is a book stuffed full of ideas, presented persuasively and pithily, but it is also just a part of the new zeitgeist - which is why it is one for today's dreamers and tomorrow's realists (Danny Dorling Times Higher Educational Supplement)
The Dutch wunderkind of new ideas (Guardian)
The Sunday Times Bestseller: a bold, optimistic and internationally bestselling book giving us cutting-edge ideas for how we might reshape societySee all Product description
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The writing style is simple and clear, avoiding complex sentence structures. I was surprised by how many of the book’s examples were taken from the Anglosphere. Some examples were from Holland and Denmark but most were from the US or UK. If I had not known, I would have assumed that the writer was a US journalist.
The main ideas are the introduction of a Universal Unconditional Basic Income, the reduction of the working week, finding a better metric than GDP and the opening of borders. The challenges are globalisation and automation of the workplace for both blue-collar and white-collar employees. Soon there will much less work, no matter how many non-jobs are created. Do we want to create a society with a small wealthy global elite surrounded by permanent mass unemployment, under-employment or pointless employment? Currently jobs are off-shored because the labour in the less developed world is cheaper than automation. What happens when automation becomes cheaper?
When technological change happened in the past new, previously un-imaged jobs replaced them. However, this time may be different. “Slowly but surely, the bedrock of modern democracy – the middle class – is crumbling. And while the U.S. is leading the process, other developed nations aren’t far behind.” (page 191)
“In the end, it’s not the market or technology that decides what has real value, but society. If we want this century to be one in which all of us get richer, then we’ll need to free ourselves of the dogma that all work is meaningful. And, while we’re at it, let’s also get rid of the fallacy that a higher salary is automatically a reflection of societal value.” (page 172)
THE BOOK has 10 chapters and an Epilogue over 264 pages, plus 52 pages of Notes, Index and Acknowledgements. The chapters are:
1. The Return of Utopia
Where the medieval European dream of the Land of Plenty, Cockaigne, is fulfilled by the modern western world’s development, but it is a bleak Paradise
2. Why We Should Give Free Money to Everyone
Where examples of giving away free money to the street-sleeping homeless are reviewed
3. The End of Poverty
How money from a casino lifted Cherokee families out of the cycle of poverty and social problems. How Utah‘s unconditional gifts of money and homes solved their homeless problem
4. The Bizarre Tale of President Nixon and His Basic Income Tax Bill
President Nixon tried to introduce a universal basic income. The successful results of a similar scheme in early 19th century in Speenhamland, England were deliberately misrepresented for political reasons in the 1830s. The idea of a universal basic income was supported by economists Frederick Hayek and Milton Friedman. The State of Alaska gives a universal basic income to its residents from oil revenues
5. New Figures for a new Era
The invention of GDP and its modern limitations
6. A Fifteen Hour Work-Week
7. Why It Doesn’t Pay to be a Banker
On real jobs, well-paid jobs that negatively contribute to the common wealth and jobs that are meaningless
8. Race Against the Machine
The onslaught of automation and intelligent machines
9. Beyond the Gates of the Land of Plenty
Open the borders
10. Ideas Change the World
How some apparently crazy ideas eventually become mainstream e.g. abolishing slavery
SOUCES: The author’s sources include:
The Failed Welfare Revolution;Utopianism: A Very Short Introduction ;Picture Imperfect: Utopian Thought ;Just Give Money to the Poor ;Basic Income Guarantee;GDP: A Brief but Affectionate History;The Overworked American;Time on Our Side: Why We All Need a Shorter Working Week;The Second Machine Age.
Annoyingly, the 'how we can get there' part is almost completely missing. Bregman spends 3 chapters banging on about how good UBI would be (who doesn't want free money?!), but completely overlooks to question of how to pay for it, or how it could interact with current welfare systems. He's preaching to the choir, and if you're not part of that choir this book will leave you frustrated.
To be fair, it is very readable, and he has quite an entertaining writing style. If you're looking for something easy to read in your spare time you can do worse. If you're looking for something which really makes you think about how our society can and should be improved I'd recommend 'How much is enough?' by the Skidelsky brothers, which basically covers exactly the same material, but from a balanced non-tribal perspective.
Bregman sets out the case for a shorter working week, universal basic pay and other radical ways of viewing and operating the world we live in. If you are looking for a positive radical way of changing the world and not just tinkering around the edges, you must read this. It is well researched, well referenced, very well written, and full of information that may keep you from getting off to sleep. . It also has what has to be the most weird piece of hidden history in that Nixon almost implemented some of this stuff. Incredible!
I stopped reading two other books until I had finished this one - I just couldn't put it down, but beware, it is crammed full of great examples that you immediately want to tell someone else about.