Rutger Bregman

This book is a plaidoyer for modern progressive economic ideas for the (near) future of humankind, paired with stories from our recent past which illustrate them. It is based on several essays in the Dutch constructive journalism project De Correspondent. After Dutch publication, it was translated and fitted for the U.S./international audience and there became a real hit.

Here, I'll very briefly summarise each chapter. I'm not going to give my opinion on the contained ideas here, as there is actually a lot of them, which you could discuss one by one (universal basic income takes up the most part of the text btw). But I'll mention that this book is well-sourced (as articles in De Correspondent tend to be). And let me add that personally, I enjoy historical examples and sources to support an argument.

1. The return of Utopia

We have an utopia on our hands - if we only want it. We are quite rich these days, but a re caught up in weird psychological distresses of our time. To get back the big picture and realise our potential, it might pay to listen to so-called "dreamers".

2. Why we should give free money to everyone

The case for a basic universal income. Reports from several trials of the last deecades, e.g. London 2009, Winnipeg 1973 and multiple small experiments in Africa.

3. The end of poverty

Fighting poverty has high returns for taxpayers: Poor people become much more constructive and productive with a small financial relief, when they do not need to fear health or rent problems. Even inequality in general is bad for the economy and well-being of everyone (yes, even rich people).

4. The bizarre tale of President Nixon and his Basic Income Bill

Nixon almost signed a basic income into law. One of his advisors managed to steer him away by finding a negative report about a basic income project in England from 1795 (which is really from a different time and falsely got a bad reputation once historians looked closer). In the years after Nixon, the sentiment turned against the poor personally (Reagan/Thatcher years specifically) and until now basic income never was on the agenda of U.S. politics again.

5. New figures for a new era

The story how GDP was born and why it is out of date as a useful indicator for how a country is really doing. But also alternatives like "Gross National Happiness" are flawed. We'll have to reconsider what we mean with "growth" and "progress".

6. A fifteen-hour workweek

The case for less work and more leisure. Economists at the beginning of the 20th century predicted that we'd be working much less, due to technological progress. While we do work less personally (a trend which in several Western countries stopped since the 1980s) families are more stressed since most often there are now two adults in the workforce.

It is difficult to bring up that people should work less due to a cult around who works hardest. Bregman can think of the following list of topics, where more leisure would benefit society: Stress, climate change, accidents, unemployment, emancipation (of women), aging populations and economic inequality.

7. Why it doesn't pay to be a banker

A short rant against "bullshit jobs". Too much appreciation (in fame and money) is given to jobs which contribute less to society than others. The financial and legal professions aer good examples. Nice historical case-in-point: Once, Ireland's banks closed for months due to striking personnel. The economy did not collapse. Banks are nice to have. When New York's garbage men striked in 1968, they got their way after nine days.

8. Race against the machine

Here, Bregman explains the ongoing disruption by computers. This technological advance is unlike others before - increases in productivity are not coupled to increases in jobs anymore (since about 15+ years). Many humans will not be useful as workers anymore. Inequality will skyrocket. More education is not the easy answer here, either.

Rage against progress might become a trend. Bregman takes us back to the Luddites, an uprising against weaving automation in England 1812.

But in the end, the question to answer is probably not about progress, but about capitalism and how to deal with inequality. Enter Pickety.

9. Beyond the gates of the land of the plenty

We don't really know which development aid is actually helping. Randomised trials and doing away with modeling people as homo economicus is showing a way out.

Then, Bregman describes the case for open borders. because immigrants are industrious, the world economy could be boasted by 65 trillion dollars. Passports are a relatively new invention. We globalised everything but people. Immigrants are not (more likely to be) terrorists, criminals or undermining social cohesion. They are not taking our jobs. Lots of them return.

10. How ideas change the world

As we now know, people have difficulties letting go of their convictions - even when faced with convincing evidence to do so. How do new ideas win, then? Bregman tells the story how neoliberalism won. The story begins in 1947, when government-led interventions were all the rage and is still ongoing though it should have ended after the 2008 crisis. Bregman tells this story not without admiration for the early thinkers (Hayek and Friedman), but does paint Friedman as rather fundamentalist after 1970, when he became a mouthpiece for markets being the best solution for every problem.

11. Epilogue

Bregman calls for the Left to become brave and constructive again. He says they should "reclaim the language of progress": "reform" the financial sector. Spur "innovation" by putting talent where it helps societal outcomes. Be "efficient" - investing in poor people saves a lot of costs. "Cut the nanny state" by paying universal basic income and reducing bureaucracy. Promote "freedom" - spend time on meaningful work, where we choose more wwhat we value.

You are seeing a selection of all entries on this page. See all there are.