I first heard of Rutger Bregman following his viral moment at Davos. When he followed it up with an unaired, but again viral interview with Tucker Carlson I had to know more about him. Skimming his Guardian Page was enough to convince me to pick up Utopia for Realists.
All in all it’s the best sort of intro to a potential future of Political Economy that I’ve come across. I don’t really agree with his social change theory, but that’s not really a big deal in this context. What’s important are the goals he lays out.
Bregman seems to prefer concise and historically sourced simple ideas over meandering hypotheticals. While the latter can come off as more nuanced and therefore more intellectually rigorous, it can be counterproductive considering at the end of the day, change doesn’t come from having the cleverest ideas. It comes from having the most popular ideas and using them to gain power. An issue I’ve had with similar books is that they can spend an inordinate amount of paper just explaining a new idea of how to reorganize society. If it’s that hard to explain, it’s not getting a fan club. In fact he echoes my complaint in the epilogue, so it seems he’s doing this consciously.
His style is more: Here’s an idea, here’s a historical example, here’s how it turned out, here’s a quote from a smart person. Now here’s a criticism, and here’s why it’s wrong. Next. There’s no illusion of neutrality. He’s not afraid to defend his own beliefs. Sometimes the quotes could be a bit superfluous, but they’re not exactly long and more often than not they do drive the point home well. I moved some of them around in my notes if that matters.
Chapter 1 Return of Utopia
There wasn’t much I noted about Chapter One. If I remember correctly, it mainly exists to draw in the skeptics, prove he’s not a communist, and argue that steps to improve the world don’t necessarily end in dystopia.
“The inability to imagine a world in which things are different is evidence only of a poor imagination, not of the impossibility of change”
“It is capitalism that opened the gates to the Land of Plenty, but capitalism alone cannot sustain it. Progress has become synonymous with economic prosperity, but the twenty-first century will challenge us to find other ways of boosting our quality of life. And while young people in the West have largely come of age in an apolitical technocracy, we will have to return to politics again to find a new utopia.”
Chapter 2 Why we should give free money to everyone.
The most cost effective way to help homeless people is to just give them the money. Free money doesn’t make people lazy. It does the opposite.
MIT Study: Giving poor people money leads to a lasting rise in incomes, boosts home ownership, livestock possession, improves childhood nutrition.
Universal Basic Income leads to reductions in poverty, crime, child mortality, malnutrition, teen pregnancy, and truancy. Improves economic growth, gender equality, tax revenues. Programs cost less than alternatives. Free cash means people buy more, boosting revenues employment wages etc.
Alcohol and tobacco consumption tend to decline, even when given to addicts who tend to use it on food, clothing, medicine, & small businesses.
Children profit the most: Less hunger, disease, taller, decrease in child labor. The longer a child is poor, the worse their mental health will be. Parents can worry about parenting when they’re not worried about money.
Mincome: Largest basic income experiment ever. Monitored by economists, sociologists, and anthropologists. In Dauphin, everyone gets a basic income. Sample of 1000 families. A family of 4 gets $19,000 per year.
Found that guaranteed income does not lead to large families or unemployment. Birth rates drop, academics improve, work hours went down 1–5% on average. Laziness argument is not supported by the data. Those who took time off used it for taking care of children or staying in school. Hospitalizations drop. Domestic violence and mental health problems dropped. High school graduations increased. Benefits transversed generations.
UBI, not a new idea. In 1968 John Kenneth Galbraith, Harold Watts, James Tobin, Paul Samuelson and Robert Lampman wrote a letter to congress saying everyone in the nation should be assured an income equal to the poverty rate. Costs are substantial but within capacity. Signed by 1200 economists.
Universal government programs reduce poverty better. People accept solidarity if it benefits them personally. The welfare state which should foster a sense of security and dignity has degenerated into suspicion and shame.
There is overwhelming evidence to suggest that the vast majority of people actually want to work, whether they need to or not. In fact not having a job makes us deeply unhappy. The security of basic income is what capitalism should have been striving for all along.
Chapter 3: End of Poverty
We like to blame the poor for their plights in the west, which doesn’t make them less poor.
In fact poor people do make many dumb decisions. They borrow more, save less, drink more, smoke more, exercise less, eat worse. “It’s the context stupid.” Scarcity mentality, poor people can make ends meet better than you think, but you can’t take a break from poverty. Mental bandwidth is limited and short term needs takes precedence. I’ve heard it described as being in finals week x 10 for decades without end.
Poverty Stress makes you lose about 13 IQ points, equal to being sleep deprived or an alcoholic. In India the same people perform significantly better on cognitive tests during harvest.
There is only one class in the community that thinks more about money than the rich, and that is the poor. — Oscar Wilde
Anti Poverty measures pay for themselves, especially for children who have the most time ahead of them to benefit, higher education, salary etc. Investments in education don’t help on their own.
“I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.” — Stephen Jay Gould
Tedious bureaucratic welfare states don’t put off the fake poor. It makes it hardest on the truly needy who don’t have the mental bandwidth to go through it all. Many scholarships aimed at poor students fall outside the tunnel vision of the poor.
Past a certain minimum there is no correlation between social problems and gdp. More growth isn’t the issue.
Inequality correlates with depression, burnout, drug abuse, obesity, low voter turnout. Relative poverty matters. Rich people suffer from inequality too. Depression, suspicion, other social difficulties.
Countries with big wealth disparities have more bullying since there are bigger status differences. People’s obsession with how they are perceived in unequal societies lead to distrust & worse relationships, distrust of the state, illness, chronic health problems.
Society can’t function without some degree of inequality, incentives are good to work. Still in most developed countries inequality exceeds any reasonable or desirable amount. Even according to the IMF too much inequality inhibits economic growth.
2005 Utah gave free apartments for homeless criminals addicts etc. Leads to 74% decline in chronic homelessness. Conservatives liked it since homeless people cost $16,670 for social services police and courts. Apartment + Counseling costs $11,000. Amsterdam had similar results.
Vacant houses double homeless in Europe. 5:1 in America. We still criminalize the homeless and move them around treating symptoms instead of the problem.
Chapter 4: The Bizarre Tale of President Nixon & His Basic Income Bill
“The past teaches us a simple but crucial lesson: things could be different.”
Nixon almost did UBI but chose to continue the centuries old stigmatization of the poor as lazy.
Speenhamland economic relief program: deemed a failure before data ever came in. Classic working backwards from conclusion. Retroactive look at Speenhamland data shows it to have been a success. But never let the facts get in the way of the desires of those in power.
Myth of Speenhamland used as a cudgel against poor laws ever since. Leading to Dickensian economic realities. “Far from helping the poor, it was this specter of the workhouse that enabled employers to keep wages so miserably low”
It is only hunger which can spur and goad them on to labor, yet our laws have said they shall never hunger. -Joseph Townsend
Malthus: Humans need food to survive but we’re too horny to reproduce within our food limitations.
David Ricardo: Basic income will make them work less, leading to decline in food production and lead to a French Revolution in England.
Marx condemned poor relief as a tactic used by employers to keep wages low by pushing the responsibility to governments. Saw them as a relic of feudalism. Revolution not relief.
Conservative arguments against welfare states have been the same since 1834. George Gilder Reagan’s most cited author Wealth and Poverty are moral problems of laziness & vice.
Charles Murray most known for The Bell Curve also wrote Losing Ground which implied the same conclusion. Government support would only undermine the sexual morals and work ethic of the poor.
“Anywhere you find poor people you also find non poor people theorizing their cultural inferiority and dysfunction.” -Matt Bruenig
Still it wasn’t Reagan or Nixon who tore down the welfare state it was Bill Clinton. Perfectibility of society replaced by perfectibility of the individual.
Under Clinton $250 million was set aside for “Chastity training” for single mothers. Apparently there was no such training for Bill. Child poverty went back up to 1964 levels.
If basic income had gone through the world would be very different. Arguments against the old welfare system as inefficient demeaning expensive came to be leveled against all welfare. Now basic income is unthinkable.
Modern welfare state actually does keep people poor & produce dependence since you always have to prove you are actually poor or sick. Lack of privacy, humiliation, and endless bureaucracy.
Freedom from poverty was not always considered a privilege of working for someone else but a right to all.
Chapter 5: New Figures for a New Era
The gross national product “measures everything except that which makes life worthwhile.” -Bobby Kennedy
GDP doesn’t necessarily correlate with good things. Japan tidal wave increased following years GDP, America did the same with World War 2.
“If you were the GDP your ideal citizen would be a compulsive gambler with cancer who’s going through a drawn-out divorce that he copes with by popping fistfuls of Prozac and going bezerk on Black Friday.”
Only in the 1970s did we start measuring banks productivity in terms of their risk taking behavior. More risk = more GDP. If the banking industry was subtracted from GDP as opposed to added to it, it is plausible the financial crisis would never have happened.
“The CEO who recklessly hawks mortgages and derivatives to lap up millions in bonuses currently contributes more to the GDP than a school packed with teachers or a factory full of car mechanics. We live in a world where the going rule seems to be that the more vital your occupation, cleaning, nursing teaching, the lower you rate in the GDP. As the nobel laureate James Tobin said back in 1984 ‘we are throwing more and more of our resources, including the cream of our youth into financial activities remote from the production of goods and services into activities that generate high private rewards disproportionate to their social productivity.’”
The US created a new scientific economics which revolved around formulas numbers etc. Nothing like Keynes or Hayek. Economy used to mean society. 1950s introduced new generation of technocrats fixated on economic growth.
“productivity is for robots, humans excel at wasting time, experimenting, creating, exploring.” Kevin Kelly
We need a new metric. GDP isn’t meaningful when it comes to social welfare. Before the invention of GDP economists were rarely quoted by the press, but following WWII they were a fixture in papers.
“The welfare of a nation can scarcely be inferred from a measurement of national income” -Simon Kuznets
If we want to change our priorities, then we need to change our metrics. Other metrics exist. GPI Genuine progress indicator ISEW Index sustainable economic welfare HPI Happy planet index
Externalities: “To look solely at the price of a product is to ignore a large share of the costs. In fact a British think tank estimated that for every pound earned by advertising executives, they destroy an equivalent of seven pounds in the form of stress overconsumption pollution and debt. Conversely each pound paid to a trash collector creates an equivalent of 12 pounds in terms of health and sustainability. Whereas public sector services often bring a plethora of hidden benefits the private sector is riddled with hidden costs… You may brush this aside with the argument that such externalities can’t simply be quantified because they involve too many subjective assumptions, but that’s precisely the point. Value and productivity cannot be expressed in objective figures.”
“Distinctions must be kept in mind between quantity and quality of growth, between costs and returns, and between the short and long run. Goals for more growth should specify more growth of what and for what.” -Simon Kuznets
The inventor of GDP warned against including military, advertising, and financial sector “productivity”
“To be able to fill leisure intelligently is the last product of civilization” Bertrand Russell
Chapter 6: Fifteen-Hour Workweek
Keynes thought by 2030 we’d be working 15 hours a week, something that seems less and less likely every day. In fact there are plenty of articles that try to reverse engineer his true meaning to display contemporary political economy more favorably… It turns out if you’re rich enough you don’t have to work as much as everyone else. Never mind the fact that this has always been true, and is kind of the point of being rich. Also washers and dryers mean less house work. Never mind the fact that time saved in housework has been more than made up for with women entering the labor force.
If interested in the actual context of his statements they are here on page 5.
It’s just shortly after he says
“for the first time since his creation man will be faced with his real, his permanent problem-how to use his freedom from pressing economic cares, how to occupy the leisure, which science and compound interest will have won for him, to live wisely and agreeably and well. The strenuous purposeful money-makers may carry all of us along with them into the lap of economic abundance. But it will be those peoples, who can keep alive, and cultivate into a fuller perfection, the art of life itself and do not sell themselves for the means of life, who will be able to enjoy the abundance when it comes.”
But before he says
“We shall be able to afford to dare to assess the money-motive at its true value. The love of money as a possession -as distinguished from the love of money as a means to the enjoyments and realities of life -will be recognised for what it is, a somewhat disgusting morbidity, one of those semicriminal, semi-pathological propensities which one hands over with a shudder to the specialists in mental disease.”
So the relationship between labor and the right to be alive will be broken, and we will recognize wealth for its own sake as nothing less than how did he put it? “a somewhat disgusting morbidity, one of those semicriminal, semi-pathological propensities which one hands over with a shudder to the specialists in mental disease.” Never trust libertarians who pretend to care about Keynes. (I might have got a little sidetracked here.)
Ben Franklin had also predicted 4 hours a day of work would be the future. Marx looked forward to a day when one could “hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner… without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.” FWIW this principle somewhat ironically aligns with the Classical liberal’s disgust for coerced labor. Chomsky’s “Government in the Future” was my intro into this line of thought.
John Stuart Mill The best use of more wealth was more leisure. Technology should be used to curb the work week as much as possible.
Industrial Revolution brought the opposite. In 1300 an English Farmer had to work 1500 hours a year to make a living, whereas in Mill’s era, a factory worker would have to put in twice the time to survive. Work hours declined as time progressed. George Bernard Shaw predicted at this rate workers in 2000 will be clocking just 2 hours a day.
In 1926 32 prominent American businessmen were asked about a shorter workweek. “According to the other 30, more free time would only result in higher crime rates, debts, and degeneration.” (Same argument as always…)
Henry Ford popularized 5 day workweek as it increased productivity. Rested workers are more productive. “It is high time to rid ourselves of the notion that leisure for workmen is either lost time or a class privilege.”
1956 VP Richard Nixon promised Americans they’d work 4 days a week in the not too distant future. In the 1980s however workweek reductions disappeared. Economic growth can be in more leisure or consumption. Before 1980 we got both, but since then it’s been consumption. Work and leisure hard to disentangle. Work now follows us everywhere due to our phones.
Even in countries that have reduced the individual workweek, families have become more pressed for time. When women entered the labor force one would think men would work less, and do more housework. Whereas couples worked a combined total of 5 or 6 days a week in the 1950s now it’s 7 or 8.
Even when real incomes stay the same, consumption continues due to credit. This leads to the assumption that we can’t afford to work less.
1930 Kellog decided to introduce 6 hour workday. Hired more employees, accident rate fell 41%. Noted increase in productivity. “We can afford to pay as much for 6 hours as we formerly paid for 8.”
As a result workers became more invested in family life and participation in civic life. Countries with shortest work weeks have the largest number of volunteers.
1974 Heath introduced 3 day workweek to limit energy expenditure. Led to a grand total of a 6% decline in productivity.
In a knowledge economy 40 hours is too much. We can generally be creatively productive for 6 hours a day at most. Working less is a solution to nearly everything.
Stress “Countless studies have shown that people who work less are more satisfied with their lives”
Climate Change: “A worldwide shift to a shorter workweek could cut the CO2 emitted this century by half”
Accidents: “Overtime is deadly. Long workdays lead to more errors” Financial sector is a good example. Consequences can be uhh significant.
Unemployment. Sharing jobs can soften the blow of economic crises.
Emancipation of women “Countries with short workweeks consistently top gender-equality rankings” Men that get paternity leave help more on domestic chores.
Aging Population Seniors struggle to get hired, even though working is excellent for their health.” We should distribute working hours among more people.
Inequality: “The countries with the biggest disparities in wealth are precisely those with the longest workweeks. While the poor are working longer and longer hours just to get by, the rich are finding it ever more expensive to take time off as their hourly rates rise.”
In the 19th century work was for peasants. Now moaning about too much work is like a humblebrag. Time to yourself is associated with sloth. “True leisure however, is neither a luxury nor a vice.”
Polls show we are willing to trade in purchasing power for more free time.
“Shouldn’t the long-term goal of any society be complete unemployment?” — Doug Stanhope (Bregman didn’t actually quote Stanhope.)
Unemployment in its present involuntary form has a greater psychological effect than divorce or loss of loved one. The longer you’re sidelined the deeper you slide.
If we can get more people working, but working less society will benefit. We need to fix incentives. Hiring 1 person work overtime is cheaper than 2 part time. We can’t as individuals unilaterally decide to work less. We have to address this as nations.
“Work is the refuge of people who have nothing better to do.” -Oscar Wilde
Chapter 7: Why it Doesn’t Pay to Be a Banker
Garbagemen of NYC went on strike and the entire city looked like a slum in a week, because in fact they are important.
Much better paid workers contribute far less. Instead of creating wealth they shift it around. No hard line between creating and shifting wealth around.
America has 17x as many lawyers per capita as Japan, are we 17x more just? Or are we just patent trolls?
“How is it possible that all those agents of prosperity the teachers, the police officers, the nurses are paid so poorly while the unimportant superfluous and even destructive shifters do so well.”
1960s Bankers Strike: When Irish Bankers struck, pundits thought “life in Ireland would come to a standstill. First cash supplies would dry up, then trade would stagnate, and finally unemployment would explode.” Nothing happened. No adverse effect on the economy for 6 months.
The difficulty of gaining wealth without creating anything does not make it valuable.
“Wealth can be concentrated somewhere but that doesn’t also mean that’s where it’s being created. This is just as true for your former feudal landowner as it is for the current CEO of Goldman Sachs. The only difference is that bankers sometimes have a momentary lapse and imagine themselves the great creators of all this wealth. The lord who was proud to live off his peasants’ labor suffered no such delusions.”
“Our addiction to consumption is enabled mostly by robots and third world wage slaves.”
Bullshit Jobs- David Graeber The jobs even the people doing them admit are useless to society. It seems doing useful jobs requires a sacrifice in pay.
“Countries with more managers are actually less productive and innovative.”
How much human capital have we spent duplicating existing pharmaceuticals in a slightly different way to get a slightly different patent application so a PR team can launch a marketing campaign to sell a drug that already exists?
Transactions Tax could be used to reign in finance. In the last 40 years American stocks have gone from being held for 5 years to 5 days. High frequency trading contributes nothing to society. Maybe then we can funnel some sharper minds into more useful professions.
Harvard Study “Reagan era tax cuts sparked a mass career switch among the countries brightest minds. From teachers and engineers to bankers and accountants.” Harvard alumni used to opt for research now most go into finance. This makes us all poorer.
“For every dollar a bank earns an estimated equivalent of 60 cents is destroyed elsewhere in the economic chain. Conversely, for every dollar a researcher earns, a value of at least 5 dollars and often much more is pumped back into the economy. Higher taxes for top earners would serve, in Harvard Science speak, to reallocate talented individuals from professions that cause negative externalities to those that cause positive externalities.”
“In the end it’s not the market or technology that decides what has real value, but society.” (We live in one.)
A school teacher over a career influences over a thousand people.
“On the one hand, governments cut back on useful jobs in sectors like healthcare, education, and infrastructure — resulting in unemployment — while on the other investing millions in the unemployment industry of training and surveillance whose effectiveness has long been disproven.”
Chapter 8: Race Against the Machine
Productivity soars, wages don’t. Labor is becoming less and less scarce. Tech advances put western workers in competition with billions of workers and machines across the world.
There’s no single reason for it. Labor unions decline, financialization, lower taxes on capital are some of the contributions. Education won’t save you.
“The smaller the world gets, the fewer the number of winners.” Alfred Marshall
The reality is that it takes fewer and fewer people to create a successful business, meaning that when a business succeeds fewer and fewer people benefit.
“Scholars at Oxford University estimate that no less than 47% of all American jobs, and 54% of all those in Europe, are at a high risk of being usurped my machines. And not in a hundred years or so, but in the next twenty. The only real difference between enthusiasts and skeptics is a timeframe.”
In 1990 Ray Kurzweil predicted that a computer would outplay a chessmaster by 1998. It was 1997. IBM’s Watson also beat the world’s best Jeopardy contestants.
“Though the share of highly skilled and unskilled jobs has remained fairly stable, work for the average-skilled is on a decline”
“Just as we adapted to the first machine age through a revolution in education and welfare, so the second machine age calls for drastic measures,measures like a shorter workweek and Universal Basic Income.”
“The future is already here, it’s just not very evenly distributed. William Gibson.
Chapter 9: Beyond the Gates of the Land of Plenty
Foreign Aid is largely unproven and understudied.
Microcredit: When tested there is no hard evidence that it is effective at combating poverty and illness. Free money is better. The paranoia of creating dependence is unfounded.
“The OECD estimates that poor countries lose three times as much to tax evasion as they receive in foreign aid. Measures against tax havens for example could potentially do far more good than well meaning aid programs.”
Open borders: “Economists are no fortune tellers… but on this point their views are remarkably consistent. Four different studies have shown that depending on the level of movement in the global labor market, the estimated growth in gross worldwide product would be in the range of 67% to 147%. Effectively open borders would make the whole world twice as rich.”
If we’re serious about development aid we know what the solution is.
“The world is wide open for everything but people.”
Billions of people are forced to sell their labour at a fraction of the price that they would get for it in the Land of Plenty, all because of borders.
“It’s Apartheid on a global scale… The real elite are those born not in the right family, or in the right class, but in the right country.”
Myths of Immigration
Terrorists: It’s not a significant cause of death to begin with, but “Immigration is actually associated with a decline in terrorist acts… Economic development is linked to a decrease in extremism.”
Criminals: “Adjusted for sex, age, and income, ethnicity and criminality prove to be unconnected” Youth crime “has its origins in the neighborhood where kids grow up.”
Social cohesion: There was one study that showed this to be an issue but it has since been debunked after adjusting for a lurking variable.
Cheap labour decreases wages: Increased productivity and consumer demand maintain or increase wages.
Laziness: Immigrants take less advantage of public assistance. They tend to bring in more tax revenue than natives.
They’ll never leave: Easier border crossings lead to more crossings both ways. A secure militarized border just means they won’t risk leaving. In the 1960s, 85% of Mexicans returned, since border fortifications, less than 7% return.
“We annually spend billions of taxpayer dollars on border enforcement that is worse than useless. It is counterproductive.”
We can hardly do a 180, but we should start to loosen our borders. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the world has more barriers than ever. Humans move around. Open the gates.
Chapter 10: How Ideas Change the World
This is the one chapter I sort of took issue with. I don’t want to fixate on it since it’s not the main point of the book, but I didn’t care for the implication that the political/economic shift in the late 1970s occurred solely or even mainly due to a powerful ideology. I would never say that ideology doesn’t matter, but what matters is who actually has the power to implement their ideology. Since I don’t want to ruin the flow of the summary this close to the end, I’m adding a postscript
“It is the duty of thinkers to keep offering alternatives, ideas that seem politically impossible today, may one day become politically inevitable”
“Only a crisis, actual or perceived produces real change… When that crisis occurs the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.”
— Milton Friedman
Ironically the neoliberals who believed so strongly in the power of ideas, have caged our political imagination. Nowadays there is a common sentiment that all meaningful change is slow, which is not necessarily true. Not all change has to be gradual. In fact historically ideological change occurs very quickly.
“There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks when decades happen” — Vladimir Lenin (He didn’t use this quote, but it fits.)
“Politics with a capital P. One that’s not about rules, but about revolution. Not about the art of the possible, but about making the impossible inevitable.”
Overton window has shifted right for 4 decades. The left is to blame.
“The end of slavery, the emancipation of women, the rise of the welfare state, all were progressive ideas that started out as crazy and irrational but were ultimately accepted as basic common sense. These days however the left seems to have forgotten the art of politics. Worse many left wing thinkers and politicians attempt to quell radical sentiments among their own rank and file in their terror of losing votes”
They have no message, no goals, no excitement. They only exist to prevent the worst of the far right from coming to power, and they haven’t even done that. Sometimes it feels like they prefer losing. Losing gives an opportunity to feel vindicated when the bad guy does the bad thing… Winning leads to expectations. Failed expectations lead to leadership scrutiny.
“The greatest sin of the academic left is that it has become fundamentally aristocratic, writing in bizarre jargon that makes simple matters dizzyingly complex… What we need is a narrative that speaks to millions of ordinary people.”
Overhaul the financial sector break up banks if need be.
Abolish Tax Havens.
Pay people for their real contributions. More for nurses and teachers, less for lobbyists and bankers.
Move our best minds away from advertising and into science, medicine, climate etc.
End poverty. It’s an investment. End nanny state, free money for all.
Give people true freedom by ending bullshit jobs and pointless work hours. No one dies wishing they worked more. Jack Donaghy is fictional.
Ignore the fake pragmatists.
“Calling my ideas “unrealistic” was simply a shorthand was of saying they didn’t fit the status quo. And the best way to shut people up is to make them feel silly”
Postscript whining. Feel free to ignore.
Only a crisis, actual or perceived produces real change… When that crisis occurs the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.”
— Milton Friedman
This is a complicated quote to me. I agree that crises are a source of change, but they don’t change the world based on the ideas that are “lying around.”
As I said above what matters is who actually has the power to implement their ideology. I’d also add that economic ideology in particular will be heavily influenced by material interests. For example in my Volcker Shock post I noted price controls were a relatively popular idea. Intentionally causing a recession and permanently shifting the labor market to favor employers was not popular. It happened anyway. Milton Friedman is a perfect example. His ideas were even less popular in Chile than they were in the US despite being propagated for over a decade in what Naomi Klein calls “intellectual imperialism.”
“The main economic debate in the southern cone was not about laissez-faire capitalism versus developmentalism but about how best to take developmentalism to the next stage.” — Naomi Klein
Friedman’s ideas never came close to being enacted or even taken seriously until 1973. The Neoliberal ideology didn’t suddenly become popular after the 1973 coup of Salvador Allende. It was put in place anyway. Ideas don’t matter much under military dictatorship. Power does. This phenomenon hasn’t exactly disappeared either.
Nor is it limited to developing nations. Another example Klein has used is privatization following a “crisis.” This time it was a natural crisis, not a manufactured one. Hurricane Katrina didn’t suddenly make the idea of not having public schools popular. It didn’t inspire the local population to “level the public housing projects.” It simply provided an opportunity for people in power to do so.
Not all, but many of the ideas that Bregman advocates for are already popular. They still aren’t close to becoming reality. Popularity isn’t enough.
Since 2016 these ideas have been shoved into the mainstream largely by a few fringe politicians, but despite increased attention they are nowhere near becoming reality and many face bipartisan opposition in DC.
A Princeton study from 2014 states:
When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organised interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the US political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favour policy change, they generally do not get it.
The point is the ideas that actually matter are those that come from those in power. New/different ideas are a prerequisite to change, but they are not on their own adequate to accomplish anything.