I first came across Rutger Bregman when my sister shared his TED Talk about poverty. It was a moving presentation that rang true with my views and ideals, and I ended up sharing the link on my Facebook, too. It wasn’t until a few months later that I realized he was the author of a book I’d been eyeing, Utopia for Realists: How We Can Build the Ideal World, and this new knowledge made me even more excited to read it.
Finally, the time came for me to buy and read Utopia for Realists. Following my two most recent reads – This Land is Our Land and Open Borders – Utopia for Realists was a natural progression. It also discusses immigration, as well as several other key ideas relevant to today’s sociopolitical world. And while these ideas may seem radical or unrealistic, Rutger Bregman shows that they’re really not.
The three principle arguments within Utopia for Realists are:
- We should all have a Universal Basic Income (UBI)
- We should shift to a 15-hour workweek
- The world would be better with open borders
With each, Bregman shows that these ideas aren’t new or untested. In fact, in all cases they’ve been pushed for, anticipated, and even a reality.
For example, Universal Basic Income has been tested in communities in Canada, the United States, and Kenya. In all studies, which lasted years, UBI was a resounding success. It drastically reduced poverty, improved health, led to kids performing better in school… and didn’t reduce people’s work ethic or employment. Bregman also dives into history and shows that former US president Richard Nixon had once proposed a UBI, and it was supported among both Democrats and Republicans. Although it didn’t come to be then, UBI is making a comeback now. Look at current presidential candidate Andrew Yang. While his shot at winning the Democratic nomination is slim this time around, his ideas around Universal Basic Income will likely grow into mainstream thought before long.
The 15-hour workweek is another concept that was predicted and fully expected by leading thinkers in the last 100 years. Considering the rapid growth of technology, we should be working a lot less than we are. Indeed, working fewer hours per week increases productivity while on the clock, but also leads to people who are healthier and happier overall. It sounds like a win-win-win. Despite it now looking like a distant dream, with enough discussion and advancement, a 15-hour workweek can and should be part of our future within the next decade or so.
Finally, Bregman discusses the idea of open borders. As controversial as it seems now, our borders were essentially open up until WWI. Closed borders is the new idea, but it makes the world poorer and no safer. In fact, open borders would cut down on poverty and make the world richer. Europe has fairly open borders within itself; why can’t we expand those open borders among other countries, between the US and its neighbors?
Rutger Bregman provides abundant research on these ideas and more within Utopia for Realists. He shares historic examples and modern ones, ideas from iconic thinkers of the past and of the present. Moreover, we examine the very idea of a utopia and of what is considered achievable. Indeed, many ideas that were once considered outrageous and impossible – abolishing slavery, giving women the right to vote, legalizing same-sex marriage – are now considered obvious and normal. But these perceptions didn’t change overnight. They changed because “radical” idealists proposed them and fought for them.
Today, we live in what Rutger Bregman describes as the “Land of Plenty.” Our current world was once just the utopia dreamed up by people hundreds of years ago. Compared to our ancestors, we have it good. But by today’s standards, it’s nothing special. It’s time to dream big again and aim for a new utopia – that is, after all, the only way to progress.
Utopia for Realists is a thoughtful and intelligent book that will force you to rethink what you know and what you want. While some chapters are stronger and more engaging than others, the whole is a book that will leave an impact and make you want to imagine a better future… and consider how we can achieve it today.