Utopia for Realists | Rutger Bregman

Summary of: Utopia for Realists: How We Can Build the Ideal World
By: Rutger Bregman


Welcome to a journey through ‘Utopia for Realists,’ where author Rutger Bregman paints a provocative picture of the world we could build by embracing radical ideas and rediscovering our lost dreams. This book summary explores the power of a Universal Basic Income, challenges the validity of GDP as a measure of progress, and dives into reducing our work-week to maximize well-being. Prepare yourself for a thought-provoking exploration of what it truly means to live the good life in a time of material wealth.

Progress and the Good Life

Our world has experienced tremendous progress in the last century, compared to the centuries of little to no change prior. The economy has grown exponentially, technology is advancing at an unprecedented rate, and people are living more secure and healthy lives. However, despite these advancements, many people still feel dissatisfied with their lives, and we have forgotten how to dream big. We must consider what progress and living a good life in a time of material wealth truly mean.

The Power of Unconditional Cash

GiveDirectly, a charity organization, believes in giving cash directly to the poor without strings attached because they know best what they need. This approach is different from the conventional thinking of governments and NGOs that dictate what impoverished individuals require, such as cows, schools, or solar panels. Studies around the world confirm the effectiveness of this approach, showing that giving cash leads to a significant increase in income and asset ownership. Despite the entrenched belief that handouts breed laziness and vice, evidence suggests that cash recipients show a decline in alcohol and tobacco consumption while using their unexpected windfalls to invest in medicine, food, and small businesses. Poverty is not about bad decisions but about the lack of money.

Universal Basic Income: A Viable Solution for Poverty

Universal Basic Income (UBI) is a tax-funded scheme that provides a basic living wage to everyone without any conditions. Though it’s not a novel idea, it gained traction when former President Richard Nixon suggested giving $1,600 per family annually. However, political opposition forced Nixon to abandon the idea. Today, UBI is deemed feasible. Some critics argue that it’s unaffordable, but studies show that eradicating poverty in the US would cost less than 1% of GDP. UBI’s opponents also claim that it would encourage indolence. However, research indicates that only 9% of paid work was reduced when trials were conducted. Furthermore, young people and mothers of young children mostly accounted for it. UBI could instead help people make better decisions regarding education and investment.

The innovations in technology and the rise of globalization pose a threat to job security in today’s economy. Therefore, implementing UBI can be an effective tool to combat poverty and joblessness. All we need is to embrace a different perspective on how our economic system can work.

Beyond GDP

The book questions the reliability of GDP as a measure of a nation’s progress. It argues that GDP is flawed in measuring technological advances, benefits from human suffering, and doesn’t consider leisure-time as a factor. The book suggests a dashboard of measures that would work better than a single figure GDP, which would include growth, financial investment, jobs, community service, environmental health, social cohesion, and leisure-time.

The Case for a Shorter Workweek

In the 1930s, renowned economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that by 2030, we would have a 15-hour workweek. Although economic growth has skyrocketed, more consumption rather than more leisure has become the norm. However, studies show that shorter workweeks could have numerous benefits such as reducing workplace accidents, cutting stress, and promoting gender equality. In fact, countries with shorter workweeks have topped the charts in gender equality. Shorter workweeks allow individuals to focus on personal growth, spend time with family, and pursue hobbies. It is time to prioritize a shorter workweek for the benefit of society as a whole.

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