Utopia for Realists opens your eyes and mind to a different way of thinking.
We are fed up with the current status quo and with a capitalist system that cannot be changed. But Rutger Bregman shows that these systems can change. And do. Utopia can happen. The examples in this book provide hope that our current systems can be changed.
Rutger addresses various topics, from ending poverty, immigration and the creation of GDP, through to a 15-hour work week and basic income.
The majority of the book had me in awe, not just because some of these ideas have worked, but also at the shocking statistics for our current system. For example, “today, the richest 8% earn half of all the world’s income, and the richest 1% own more than half of all wealth ... A person living at the poverty line in the U.S. belongs to the richest 14% of the world population; someone earning a median wage belongs to the richest 4%.”
And it gets worse. “Just eight people – the richest on Earth – own the same as the poorest half of the whole world.”
But this book isn’t all doom and gloom. Rutger has solutions. He has evidence proving that the stereotypical thought that ‘poor people can’t handle money’ (which is why gaining benefits requires so much paper work) is not true. Kenyan citizens who received a random payout from charity GiveDirectly, started businesses and fixed homes, rather than squander it.
There is also evidence that: productivity and longer working hours don’t go hand in hand, meaning a shorter work week would be of benefit; reducing immigration and closing borders actually reduces GDP (four different studies showed that with open borders, ‘gross worldwide product’ would be in the range of 67-147%, and opening borders to labour would boost wealth by sixty-five trillion dollars!).
My favourite example in the book is in Chapter 3, ‘The End of Poverty’. Rutger shares the story of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. After a ten year battle with the North Carolina government, they opened the Harrah Cherokee casino, considered by some elders to be the damnation of the tribe. What actually happened was, the profits (growing to $400 million in 2004) were used to build a new school, hospital and fire station. The majority went into the pockets of the 8,000 men, women and children in the Cherokee community. At the same time, Jane Costello was researching the mental health of youth in the area. She noted big improvements in behavioural problems, with a 40% decrease in those who had been lifted from poverty. Ten years after the casino’s arrival, Costello concluded that the younger the age at which a child escapes poverty, the better their teenage health. She calculated the additional ‘$4,000 per year from the casino resulted in an additional year of education by age 21, and a reduction of a criminal record by 22%’. If we can replicate this in the poor communities around the world, we could give children the chance they deserve in the world.
I could keep going about the positives and amazing results in this book, but I don’t have the space. As Rutger concludes: realise that there are others out there like you, and don’t let anyone tell you what’s what. “If we want to change the world, we need to be unrealistic, unreasonable and impossible. Remember, those who called for the abolition of slavery, for suffrage of women, and for same-sex marriage were also once branded as lunatics. Until history proved them right.”
Rozie Apps is assistant editor at PM