As 2016 received the rubber stamp for the ‘worst year ever’ due to political disasters, rise of populism, ever wider inequality, many of you might be searching for an alternative offering a positive, better and brighter vision for our working lives, economic status and overall future. Utopia for Realists
can certainly cover that need for you.
Utopia for Realists by Rutger Bregman will attract your eye if you’ve recently walked past a bookshop. Its bold orange colour sets the tone for the book: a set of non-conformist ideas based on hard evidence. It offers a visionary but practical approach to utopian concepts such as Universal Basic Income (UBI), a 15-hour working week and free-movement world and asks the bigger question of ‘Can we build a better society by painting a picture of the kind of world we want to live in?’
Bregman is a young (28!) journalist and historian with a particular interest in economics and a flare for creating page turning bestsellers. For any avid Freakonomics followers enjoying a good economic case study, his book outlines the specific policies that constitute a utopia:
- UBI: Bregman argues that the cost of poverty is excruciating for government budgets and UBI is economically a rational thing to do. As he outlines study after study proving hard evidence that giving money with no strings attached does lead to significant improvements to poverty levels and unemployment, one may ask why the UK government hasn’t run a trial run (Political storms aside).
- The working week: In the spirit of the good old utility of happiness argument, Bregman suggests that in the advent of robots and artificial intelligence ‘taking our jobs’, it only make sense for us to be working fewer hours and spend more time proactively seeking leisure. With 37% of respondents in a UK study admitting that their job was meaningless, Bregman’s argument for a 15-hour working week challenges many traditional views on workers bargaining power, the work life balance and indirectly, the consumerism model we have been working towards in the last century or two.
- Free borders is probably the most utopian concept from Bregman’s realism. He argues that borders create exorbitantly greater inequality compared to any inequalities created by gender, race or socio-economic status inside one country and they hinder our common economic progress. As international trade has pushed many underdeveloped countries beyond the poverty level, Bregman argues that the net benefit of a borderless world is worth $65 trillion and we’re yet to tap into it.
But what about politics?
Even if you do not follow the UK political scene closely, you might be able to relate to Bregman’s argument that the Left has spent decades focusing on being ‘against’, whether that’s against war, capitalism, homophobia, climate change, but without offering a viable or convincing alternative. Bregman has drawn evidence from liberal thinkers, yet he seems to promote ideas of what we would traditionally call socialist. Bregman believes that the successful formula for a stronger Left is applying neoliberal rhetoric to a pragmatic social structure.
For an inspiration on implementing utopian ideas into practice, Bregman’s arguments are convincing and show a breadth of knowledge, research and evidence. Yet, none of what Bregman says has to be utopian, if realists become truly inspired to make a change.
Get a copy of Utopia for Realists: And How We Can Get There, £11.89
Suits and Books. Our Pleasure.
Co-author Chantal Foyer – Read her Q&A to find out more.