Book Review: Utopia for Realists (Rutger Bregman)

I came across this book as I was searching Google for an answer to a question: would universal basic income work for developing countries like India and the Philippines? Assuming the money is there to carry out a program like that in the first place…

Whenever I read about basic income online, it’s usually about some study that’s being done somewhere in the Netherlands, the richest part of the world. Already immersed in the book, I found out the writer comes from the point of view of a Dutch. I had a feeling this book would not answer my question regarding developing countries.

But I think that a good book about new ideas shouldn’t answer questions point blank. I believe that it should encourage the reader to ask more questions. This book did exactly that for me. After reading, I became even more curious about how basic income and the two other topics in the book, shorter work hours and open borders, can improve a relatively abundant world. The same world that has extreme poverty dropping from 44% in 1981 to only 10% today.

There are so many eye-opening numbers in this book just like that one about extreme poverty. Yet, I kept thinking of that quote by Disraeli, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Funny, but I think we should bear that in mind when we read econ/”big idea” books, so we don’t get fixated on numbers. We need to keep an open mind about what those numbers may or may not convey.

You’ll ask yourself why we aren’t implementing the three ideas presented in the book. Here’s a start. The politicians with the most progressive but outlandish ideas (think someone who wants to implement a 15-hour workweek) will never be popular.

I believe how our government is set up makes it so those in power are incentivized to make decisions that would yield the highest short-term gains, no matter the long-term tradeoff. We all take part in it. We pressure politicians to act with an “Imagine there’s a gun to your head” mentality when in truth, we live in a prosperous and wealthy world. The gun is just that, imaginary. We can make better decisions that will be better for us *and* the generations to come.

I am so excited to discover the author, Rutger Bregman, and looking forward to reading his other books!

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