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Utopia for realists



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Utopia for Realists
Rutger Bregman
Esseen arvioitu lukuaika on 6 minuuttia.

Utopia for realists, 

How we can build the ideal word by Rutger Bregman. 

 

Introduction 

 

In this book, Rutger Bregman, who is one of Europe’s most prominent young thinkers, is proposing us three main ideas on how we could make the world a better place. As the name of the book suggests, this is about utopia, an imagined state of things in which everything is perfect.  

According to Rutger, in a better world we would have:  

 

  • 15-hour workweek 
  • Universal basic income (UBI) 
  • Open borders and free movement for workers all over the world.  

 

This is a fascinating book that is well-researched and interestingly written. At first glance, the things seem absurd what Rudger is proposing, but due to his bold thinking, things make more and more sense the further you get into the book.  

 

 

15 Hour workweek 

 

Most of the economists of the 19th and 20th centuries hoped and believed, that the future would hold shorter workweeks, shorter days at work, and more leisure. With the advantages in efficiency, higher work morals, and productivity over the last 100 years, we should live in a world where most of the days you can live in leisure. Instead, society has turned into an over-consumerist who just can’t get enough of the stuff and food that we don’t need.  

 

Automation was the key to producing everything we need in a much shorter time, therefore if we can fulfill all our needs, we won’t need to work more. What happened with automation, instead of only producing things we need, we started to produce things we don’t actually need or want. Is it actually valuable for society that we outsource production to 3rd world countries where people work in sweatshops and use child labor in order to produce fidget spinners, cheap clothes with bad quality, ropeless skipping robes, barefoot shoes, or iPad holders for potty? Now most of us are stuck, doing some BS jobs that are only designed to fill up our days and reduce leisure.  

 

Although, we have come a long journey from the past. In big cities, like Manchester, the normal workweek used to be 70 hours without any days off or vacations. It applied to everyone, even children. Employers thought that more work, would produce more and be beneficial for the company’s growth. According to them, a shorter workweek with more free time would only cause more crimes, debts, and degeneration. The great minds of our time are encouraged to go to wall street, become bankers and get wealthy. In the past, they would become doctors, politicians, academics, researchers, and scientists. To positions that would be beneficial for us.  

 

Henry Ford, the founder of the Ford Motor Company and Model T, was one of the first employers who implemented a five-day workweek and it was a huge success. People called him crazy and after that followed in his footsteps. Ford discovered that a shorter workweek increased the employee’s productivity and that a well-rested worker was more effective in his/her job. W.K Kellogg followed Ford’s ideology and implemented a 6-hour workday at his factory and it was a huge success. He was able to hire additional 300 employees and the accident rate dropped a whopping 41 %. Kellogg told proudly to a local newspaper “The unit cost of production is so lowered that we can afford to pay as much for six hours as we formerly paid for eight”.  

 

Everything indicates that working less is the solution to almost everything. Countless studies have shown that less work indicates less stress and people are more satisfied with their lives, worldwide change to less work would cut the CO2 emitted this century by half, it would massively reduce the number of accidents, it would reduce unemployment since people would work less and there would be more jobs available, the aging population could continue working even after hitting the retirement age what would be beneficial for their health and by that, reduce the workload of a middle-aged people who are drowning to work.  

 

Bregman suggests reinventing the tax system to encourage working in jobs that are good for the world, rather than encouraging people to get wealthy by moving imaginary money. (EconSystems thinking 2020) 

 

Universal basic income (UBI) 

 

2009, in London the costs of looking after the homeless people were skyrocketing since homeless people were getting in trouble with the police, their health was bad so they had to go to hospitals, and community work was needed to help them. In a nutshell, it was incredibly expensive to take care of them. 13 troublemakers had built up a bill estimated at 400 000 pounds per year. London tried an experiment where they gave 3000 pounds for them and cut off social services for them. How they spend it is up to them.  

 

The main assumption was that they would waste food on drugs or alcohol. However, after 12 months, 7 of the 13 had roofs on top of their heads, and 2 of them were on a waiting list for moving to their own place. All 13 of them, had used the money to make steps towards a better life and personal growth. The 400 000, that was used on them previously, was reduced to 50 000 including the salaries of social workers. Magazine “the economist” concluded, “Most efficient way to spend money on the homeless might be to give it to them”.  

 

According to Bregman, people know what they need and poor decisions that people usually make, are driven by pressure from poverty and insecurity. The base level of money helps people to escape the endless cycle and focus on the long term for them to grow as individuals. (EconSystems thinking 2020) 

 

Open borders and free movement for workers all over the world 

 

The last suggestion of Bregman on how to make the world a better place is opening all borders and giving workers free movement between countries. Currently, where a person is born, has the biggest impact on the death rate, wealthiness, and education level they will reach. Bregman views this as a way of sanctioned apartheid where we are cheering for people from rich countries that are earning way more than people in poor countries, doing the same job, only because of where they were born.  

Opening up our borders for immigrants is the most powerful weapon against poverty. Using billions in giving aid has not really done anything and the leading economic minds agree on opening borders and free mobility amongst them would make the world twice as rich as it is now. Sadly, the idea is pushed back with the same old arguments. (Bregman 2016) 

 

“Immigrants will take our jobs or not work at all, they are lazy and only come here to benefit from social services and free government money!” 

Probably the most iconic one and what you hear most often. It is a misconception that productive women, seniors, and immigrants would take jobs from hardworking citizens. A bigger workforce means more consumption, creating more demand and more jobs. It creates more employment opportunities.  

According to Bregman, it is proven that immigrants actually take fewer advantages of public assistance than natives, to criticize him a bit, he did not provide enough information about where this information is coming from. Could be, that since there are fewer immigrants than natives, of course in percentage, immigrants are getting less public assistance than the natives. (Bregman 2016) 

 

“Cheap immigrant labor will force our wages down!” 

Research and studies have found that immigration has virtually nothing to do with wages. Studies show that hardworking immigrants boost productivity, which brings paychecks for everyone. Analysis between 1990 and 2000, world bank researchers found that emigration out of the country had a bigger impact on wages in Europe than immigration. (Bregman 2016) 

 

“They’ll never go back!”  

This is an interesting paradox for us: Bregman suggests that opening the borders would promote immigrant emigration. He refers to statistics from the 1960s, where 70 million Mexicans crossed the U.S. border, and eventually 85 % returned back home. After 9/11 happened, the U.S. increased their surveillance, cameras, and border patrol agents on the border and after that, only 7 % of the illegal Mexican immigrants went back. (Bregman 2016) 

 

A sociology professor at Princeton University quoted “We annually spend millions of taxpayer dollars on border enforcement that is worse than useless – it is counterproductive.” Seems that immigrants respond quite rationally to the increased costs and risks by minimizing the number of times they cross the border. In 2007 the number of illegal immigrants from Mexico grew to 7 million. That is seven times as many as in the 80s. (Bregman 2016) 

 

A recent poll revealed, that around 700 million people would want to move from their country. Opening the borders is not something we can do overnight but we should definitely start thinking about it in order to achieve this utopistic world. Hundreds of millions of people all around the world are living in open-air prisons, since the 21st century, three-quarters of walls and fences were built. There are thousands of miles of barbed wires between India and Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia is fencing the whole country. While Europe is giving a free pass to its citizens, they are allocating millions to head off back to the Mediterranean Sea. (Bregman 2016) 

 

If we look back at the history of humankind, we didn’t evolve by staying in the same place. Migration takes time and it is proven to be one of the most powerful ways of progress. (Bregman 2016) 

 

 

 

 

EconSystems Thinking. (2020, February 9). Summary & Review: Utopia for realists by Rutger Bregman. Medium. Retrieved November 24, 2022, from https://econsystemsthinking.medium.com/summary-review-utopia-for-realists-by-rutger-bregman-437c506f329c  

 

Bregman, R., & Manton, E. (2016). Utopia for realists: The case for a universal basic income, open borders, and a 15-hour workweek. The Correspondent.  

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