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Utopia for Realists

Utopia for Realists by Rutger Bregman

Read in October 2020

"As long as we continue to be obsessed with work, work, and more work, the number of superfluous jobs will only continue to grow."

The Return of the Utopia

For roughly 99% of the history, 99% of the humanity was poor, hungry, dirty, afraid, stupid and sick. In the last 200 years, that has been changed.

Average salaries are way higher, and less people die from diseases. Between 1994 and 2014, internet access rate climbed to 40% from 0.4%

Medieval Utopia

If you've asked medieval civilizations to describe an utopia, it'll be something like "Land of Plenty" (Cocknaigne). But we are already in some sort of a land of plenty.

  • 7/24 fast food
  • Climate control
  • Free love
  • Workless income
  • Plastic surgery

It's an era which biblical prophecies came true. Blind people are starting to see. Cripple people are starting to walk.

But it's a bleak paradise. There's a crucial thing we are lacking: a reason to get out of the bed. We stopped making progress, which is the realization of utopias. We can't imagine a better world because there's no dream to replace the current state. Children born today will be worse off than their parents.

Two forms of an utopian thought

  • Blueprint: strict, controlled, fascist, stalinist, genocidal
  • Socratic: asking the questions to identify problem in the society. "Why are we working harder since 80' even though we are richer?"

Problems of today

Destruction of the grand narrative

  • Food industry supplies unhealthy foods, and we go to the doctor.
  • Tech creates more jobs, and obsolete people go back to career coaches.
  • Industry encourages to spend more for happiness, and we end up crying on therapists' shoulders.

The papered generation

"You can become everything you want, you are special" mindset brought up a narcissistic diet, and we crash and burn when facing "the big world". More competition, more unemployment, and more anxiety.

True progress

True progress beings with generating wisdom about what it means to live well.

  • New communities
  • Less mass media manipulation
  • Shared idealism to generate value by being useful for the community.

Universal Basic Income

Several experiments in London and a small town in Canada shown the "basic income" is actually helpful for people to get their shit together and improve their lives.

  • Households put money to good use
  • Poverty started to decline
  • There are long term benefits for income, health and tax
  • Alcohol and tobaco consumption has declined for 82% of the cases.

Is it futile?

For the first time in the history, we are actually rich.

Eradicating poverty in US would cost 175 billion $, which is less than 1% of GDP and 1/4 of US military spending. Only the Afghanistan and Iraq wars costed $4-$6 trillion.

Approximate comparison applies most of the developed countries.

Is it dangerous?

  • Artists and writers won't have to work in day jobs.
  • People would be unhappy if they don't work.
  • It would help involuntary employments to vanish.

Some history

Raegan was going to pass the law but it came back from the senate, even though the congress approved.

Nixon's free market enthusiast advisor gives him a 6-page document and it changes his mind. There was a bullshit story from England (Speedhamland) in this document, which tells UBI didn't work out.

To make sure they solve the "joblessness" situation, he attached the obligatory registration to job center point to his 1600$/m basic income bill. But it didn't pass.


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