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Utopia for Realists: How We Can Build the Ideal World Hardcover – March 14, 2017
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"Utopia for Realists is fantastic. A quick glance turned into hours of riveting reading. Very seldom does a book change the way you think about some of most intractable problems of society, and of life. This one did. Read this book."―Sydney Finkelstein, director of the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College and author of Superbosses: How Exceptional Leaders Master the Flow of Talent
"If you're bored with hackneyed debates and 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, New York Times bestselling author of The Blank Slate and The Better Angels of Our Nature
"Bregman speaks with impressive authority . . . His solutions are quite simple and staunchly set against current trends . . . He has assembled a wealth of empirical evidence to make his case. Better than that, though, Utopia for Realists 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, even when you can't quite believe what you're reading . . . Listen out for Rutger Bregman. He has a big future shaping the future."―Andrew Anthony, The Guardian UK
"Rutger Bregman is part of a new generation of thinkers who are suggesting exciting alternatives to the orthodoxies of the last forty years. In this surprising, accessible, and often counterintuitive book, Bregman explores some brilliant but simple ideas for making a better world."―Brian Eno
"A spirited and practical manifesto for improving the odds of making a heaven on Earth."
About the Author
Rutger Bregman is a journalist at The Correspondent, and one of Europe's most prominent young thinkers. He has published four books on history, philosophy, and economics. His History of Progress was awarded the Belgian Liberales prize for best nonfiction book of 2013, and Bregman has twice been nominated for the European Press Prize.
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Top Customer Reviews
To appreciate and enjoy Utopia For Realists, you must buy into the initial premise that our problem is we can’t come up with anything better than the way things are now. We have run out of goals. We have run out of ideas. We are all about cutting back, servicing less, and ignoring various elephants in the room, like automation overloading us with leisure time. Western society is so wealthy in historic terms that we don’t realize we have reached Utopia. Even at our worst, we are infinitely better off than our forebears. What we need now is a new Utopia to aim for.
Guaranteed income sounds impossibly expensive, but everywhere it has been tried – dozens of places - it has worked spectacularly. For one thing, every dollar spent saves three in less supervision of beneficiaries (eg. Police and court services, pointless workshops, training sessions and reports on everyone all the time). For another, the poor don’t drink away the income; they hang onto it dearly, measuring it out only as needed for the biggest impact. Poverty is not an attitude; it is a shortage of cash.
Two hundred years ago, we worked 70 hour weeks with no days off. And we were miserable. Today, we can be miserable with 40 hour weeks, two days off and 2-5 weeks’ vacation. Soon, we must face the reality of 15 hour weeks, because artificial intelligence will pick up where automated looms, assembly lines and robots have left off. We can massage it into a Utopia, or let it destroy our fabric. Our choice, but we need to start acting now.
Borders prevent development and trade. Mexicans used to return from the USA at the rate of 85%. Now they have to stay put. Finding new markets or even just work is enlarged with a larger territory. Artificially compartmentalizing everyone is stultifying. Economically, politically, and socially. Passports and visas – a totally artificial construct recently invented, benefitting no one.
Bregman doesn’t get into the self-imposed need for growth, though he does criticize the concepts of GNP/GDP. He says governing by numbers is the last resort of a country that no longer knows what it wants, a country with no vision of utopia.
He ends with sound advice for the Left: stop caving to right wing dogma. You have access to dramatic facts. Use them. There are gigantic, proven solutions waiting to be implemented if only someone would sponsor them. He points out that the accepted issues of the day, like voting by women, same sex marriage and abolition of slavery were outrageously radical and completely unacceptable just a few years ago. So be impossible and have a thick skin.
Subtitled "How We Can Build The Ideal World," Utopia for Realists is an international best seller, first published in the Netherlands where it ignited a debate and inspired a movement.
Bregman begins by reminding us of how recently life was a "vale of tears," "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short," as philosophers wrote in the 16th c. With the explosion of new technology and prosperity over the last two hundred years, humanity has achieved a standard of living that Medieval folk would consider Utopia; indoor heat and cooling, flush toilets and clean water alone would make them marvel. So would obesity from an overabundance of easily obtained food, the magical ability to protect ourselves from smallpox and polio, and paved roads we travel at 70 mph--without fear of highwaymen robberies.
Have we reached Utopia? Or is there something we can do to make life even better? How can we solve the problems that remain: fearfulness, unemployment, quality of life, poverty.
The welfare state 'from a bygone era' doesn't work today. Globalization and the cost of higher education have impacted the stability of the Middle Class. Upward mobility for the poor no longer happens.
Bregman wants to "fling open the windows of our minds" to discover "a new lodestar." He presents studies and experiments about how we treat the homeless and the poor and challenges our traditional mindset that people are to be blamed for their own poverty--they just have to work hard and save. We have created welfare programs for those in need, which are costly and do not solve the basic problem. What happened to the expectation of the 15-hour workweek? Why are we spending more time working, impacting our health and our families?
Bregman wants us to dream new dreams and embrace ideas that can change the world for the better. Thinking outside the box has made a difference: abolition, universal voting rights, and same-sex marriage, he reminds, were all once considered impossible. All it takes is "a single opposing voice.
The basis of Bregman's new Utopia is a guaranteed basic income. He presents studies that demonstrate the success of such programs. In 1967 universal basic income was supported by 80% of Americans and President Nixon submitted a bill to eradicate poverty.
Other changes he offers include shorter work hours, proven to increase productivity, reconsidering the importance of the Gross Domestic Product as our economic standard of success, improving quality of life, open borders, taxing capital instead of labor, and adjusting salary to a job's societal value. At a time when productivity is a record levels, there are fewer jobs and lower salaries. "We have to devise a system to ensure that everybody benefits," he writes.
There is an old saying: Insanity is doing the same thing over and expecting different results. Instead of holding more tightly to the old ways we need to envision innovation. Perhaps books like this will spur discussions and reevaluations.
One can only hope.
I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.