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The Big Answer


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Utopia for Realists: How We Can Build the Ideal World

a book by Rutger Bregman

(our site's book review)

Utopia—Too Good to Be True or Too Naive to Be Seriously Considered?

Universal basic income. A 15-hour workweek. Open borders. Does it sound too good to be true? (Or too naive to be seriously considered?) One of Europe's leading young thinkers (or he thinks he is—we were not impressed) shows how we can build an ideal world today.

After working all day at jobs we often dislike, we buy things we don't need. Rutger Bregman, a Dutch historian, reminds us it needn't be this way—and in some places it isn't. He's correct to challenge our buying things because ads tell us to rather than because we really need them.

Bregman is correct to challenge our buying things because ads tell us to rather than because we really need them
Bregman is correct to challenge our buying things because ads tell us to rather than because we really need them

Rutger Bregman's TED Talk about universal basic income seemed impossibly radical when he delivered it in 2014. A quarter of a million views later, the subject of that video is being seriously considered by a very few of the leading economists and government leaders in the world. It's just one of the many utopian ideas that Bregman proves is "possible" today. TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a media organization which posts talks online for free distribution, under the slogan "ideas worth spreading." Whether Bregman's idea is an "idea worth spreading" is a matter of opinion. Our opinion? Not!

According to the book's hype, "Utopia for Realists: How We Can Build the Ideal World is one of those rare books that takes you by surprise and challenges what you think can happen. From a Canadian city that once completely eradicated poverty, to Richard Nixon's unexpected near implementation of a basic income for millions of Americans, Bregman takes us on a journey through history, and beyond the traditional left-right divides, as he champions ideas whose time have come." (In his opinion.)

According to the book's hype, "Every progressive milestone of civilization—from the end of slavery to the beginning of democracy—was once considered a utopian fantasy. Bregman's book, both challenging and bracing, demonstrates that new utopian ideas, like the elimination of poverty and the creation of the fifteen-hour workweek, can become a reality in our lifetime. Being unrealistic and unreasonable can in fact make the impossible inevitable, and it is the only way to build the ideal world." (In his opinion.)

The castles in air Bregman builds have no foundation in 21st century reality America—he's viewing the world through European welfare state glasses and the result is embarrassingly naive
The castles in air Bregman builds have no foundation in 21st century reality America—he's viewing the world through European welfare state glasses and the result is embarrassingly naive


Bregman is viewing the world through these European-welfare-state glasses and the result is embarrassingly naive
Bregman is viewing the world through these European-welfare-state glasses and the result is embarrassingly naive

Utopia Via Political Salvationism and Social Engineering? Reread 20th Century History Books!

Right off the bat we see the problem. The goals are at least humanistically relevant and benign. But the methods are naive. He wants Utopia via political salvationism and social engineering, which means that the implementation is through the authority of various new laws, statutes, bureaucracies, agencies, commissions and leadership from various authorities. Sounds like liberal heaven until you analyze it in depth. It turns out that one can predict that it would just end up as another issue to be used to polarize and divide, another bureaucracy to fowl things up due to the intrinsically naïve Second Wave structure of government bureaucracies in general with all ther perverse incentives, and another social program that everyone wants anyone but themselves to pay the taxes for.

Perhaps tax-and-spend liberalism has had its day and we need a better idea (MCs)
Perhaps tax-and-spend liberalism has had its day and we need a better idea (MCs)

Rutger Bregman is one of Europe’s most prominent young thinkers (or a legend in his own mind). Political salvationism and social engineering are not dirty words in Europe (especially the Netherlands), where engineered welfare states are considered successes by many, especially when one compares them to the USA or Russia or China or India or Mideast nations. In the U.S., progressivism is now the dirty P word and liberalism is, and has been for decades, the dirty L word. We need solutions that involve no politics, bureaucracies, taxes, corruption, heroic political leaders that turn out to be stinkers, no dependency on the state, etc. No social engineering. No increasing of the polarization index. The 20th century is a testament to the horrors of political salvationism and social engineering. We have met the enemy and he is us, says Pogo. He's got a point.

'We have met the enemy and he is us,' says Pogo—he's got a point, and this fellow just got it too
"We have met the enemy and he is us," says Pogo—he's got a point, and this fellow just got it too


Every time the social engineers do their thing, later we always realize we've been led down the garden path, failing to see that there's a sinkhole up ahead on this path—and it's miles deep
Every time the social engineers do their thing, later we always realize we've been led down the garden path, failing to see that there's a sinkhole up ahead on this path—and it's miles deep

The author did nothing to justify the title Utopia for REALISTS. Is it "realistic" to expect that the rich U.S. oligarchs will put up with having a significant part of their wealth threatened by liberal utopian social engineering fantasies turned into programs? When hell freezes over!

How do you take a banana from a 900-lb. gorilla? The same way you get wealth from a greedy oligarch. Very carefully.
How do you take a banana from a 900-lb. gorilla? The same way you get wealth from a greedy oligarch. Very carefully.

Bregman's Fantasies Are Too Liberal and Naive to Be Seriously Considered in the USA

A 15-hour working week may be an excellent idea in the Netherlands or a similar welfare state. It is a nonstarter in the USA. People work 2 jobs just to pay the rent and keep food on the table. If people did not have to work much, they'd watch TV or smoke pot more, becoming less and less physically and mentally healthy. How would their rent get paid? Or their taxes or their insurance premiums or their electric bill or their cable bill or their Internet bill or their phone bill or their medical bills? A welfare state may pay for some of these but in the U.S. the military and its warmongering alone cost more money than taxes support. Every year the USA gets another trillion dollars deeper into debt, and that's with everyone that can find jobs they like working as many hours as they can. Talking about the rich Western countries when the USA is 20 trillion dollars in debt is silly. What's "rich" about minus 20 trillion dollars?

national debt

Unless American citizens start defecating money, the debt has put us all in deep doo-doo
Unless American citizens start defecating money, the debt has put us all in deep doo-doo

“When it comes to skill investments, individual rationality (let someone else do it) produces collective irrationality (it doesn’t get done),” says Lester C. Thurow. Individuals don’t want to invest in skills that may not be needed tomorrow in their area, local governments don’t want to pay for great schools because the students will so often move away and the local area won’t benefit from the investment, firms don’t want to invest in worker training because of high worker turnover, etc.

Just like the fable (The Little Red Hen) where no animal wanted to help make a loaf of bread but all wanted to eat it, all entities in the skills training chain pass the buck expediently along to the next entity. As in the fable, the only one that got to eat the bread was the one who did the work (the little red hen), and the Americans who get to benefit the most from the system are those that invest the most in themselves as skilled workers: study hard, learn much, get high grades, train hard, develop a great resume, save lots, persevere, and become very computer-savvy. Or even become an apprentice to a plumber or electrician—they make good money.

The Little Red Hen
The Little Red Hen

Bregman Recycles Old Liberal-Socialistic Ideals While Realistic Visionaries Like Steve Jobs Create True Progress

"It is utopian visions that have driven humanity forward. It was the hope we could fly, conquer disease, motorize transport, build communities of the faithful, discover virgin land or live in permanent peace that has propelled men and women to take the risks and obsess about the new that, while not creating the utopia of which they dreamed, has at least got us some of the way. Celebrate the grip that utopia has on our imagination. It is the author of progress." (Source: Utopia for Realists: And How We Can Get There by Rutger Bregman – review, Will Hutton, The Guardian)


Individual Visionaries Create True Progress—Governments Are Mostly in the Way

Hutton, above, is correct that visions of utopia are the author of progress. But note that wishing to fly, conquer disease, motorize transport, build communities of the faithful, discover virgin land or live in permanent peace are mostly unrelated to governments. They are about inventing, researching, entrepreneuring, and exploring. Building communities of the faithful is about grassroots organizing and preaching. Living in peace is about electing real statesmen or women that actually mean what they say when they claim they want peace. Both Dubya and Obama lied about it and Trump seems to be going in the war direction as well.

So when capable explorers and researchers and inventers make a breakthrough, society benefits anywhere from marginally to greatly. But when politicians become leaders, most of them (except for Washington, Jefferson, and FDR) sell us out and follow the dictates of the neocon warmongers in the shadow government. So to create progress, talented people like Steve Jobs and others lead us to better technological advances, inventing devices that become ubiquitous. Or Columbus risks his life to discover a new world, or Jonas Salk conquers polio with a vaccine, etc.

Government has gotten out of control so that rich oligarchs are using it for a tool to wreck the ladder of class mobility so it is no longer usable
Government has gotten out of control so that rich oligarchs are using it for a tool to wreck the ladder of class mobility so it is no longer usable

Government is not the hero in any of these stories, nor is social engineering or social programs with built-in perverse incentives and conflicts of interest, nor is political salvationism. So utopian dreams of Mr. Jobs did NOT lead him to go to the government with his and Wozniac's ideas, but to create with their hands and minds and then market, innovate, research, improve, and keep making creative leaps pushed by being men of vision.

Government has gotten out of control so that rich oligarchs are using it for a tool to rip off the nonrich and wreck the ladder of class mobility so it is no longer usable. See Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power as Noam Chomsky, the wisest intellectual of our era, lays it all out so it is easy to understand.


Bregman's Ideas Are Silly and Inappropriate for Our National Security State Oligarchy

Here is another reason why the author's ideas are silly and inappropriate for our national security state oligarchy: As John W. Whitehead said (while in a very Twilight Zone mood), "We’re hurtling down a one-way road toward the Police State at mind-boggling speeds, the terrain is getting more treacherous by the minute, and we’ve passed all the exit ramps. From this point forward, there is no turning back, and the signpost ahead reads 'Danger.'" (Source: The US Has Become A Worse Police State Than Orwell Could Imagine)

Rod Serling, the voice of The Twilight Zone
Rod Serling, the voice of The Twilight Zone


Government has gotten out of control so that rich oligarchs are using it for a tool to rip off the nonrich
Government has gotten out of control so that rich oligarchs are using it for a tool to rip off the nonrich

Our Founders Would Laugh at Bregman's Ideas—They Had No Patience for Laziness

Bregman's dreams of universal basic income, a 15-hour workweek, and open borders are silly fantasies of a young, liberal, European historian with too much time on his hands. Such ideas are just open invitations for those without character to take advantage of those with character. Even if his thoughts are about bleeding heart liberal and socialistic ideals, his better judgment should have kicked in by now as he realizes that in the real world of real people, a good percentage are not of good character, and a small percentage are criminals or terrorists. So if we got his plans implemented it would just be a huge exploitation of people of good character by people of bad character. So therefore his book should never have been written.

Our Founders would laugh at Bregman's naive foolishness
Our Founders would laugh at Bregman's naive foolishness

Our Founders would laugh at his foolishness, saying that people are free to work as little or as much as they like, and if they starve from being lazy, it is just nature's way of sorting out the deserving and the undeserving. You work, you eat. You don't work, you starve. Obviously mentally and physically challenged people need extra help, as do the elderly and orphans, and communities would handle these things as local problems and family problems. But the Founders—as well as all intelligent citizens today—had no patience for laziness or drunkenness. If someone drinks until he runs out of money, he'll either work to get money or starve. Great life guides—simple but fair.

Americans' work ethics have sunk until there are lots of jobs going begging but no qualifed people willing to work, so we import workers and our citizens bitch about it!
Americans' work ethics have sunk until there are lots of jobs going begging but no qualifed people willing to work, so we import workers and our citizens bitch about it!

If Bregman had suggested to the Founders that the government should begin subsidizing laziness and drunkenness, they'd have rolled on the floor laughing and maybe send him to the local nuthouse! Even though the author is saying automation will take jobs so there won't be enough to go around so we need to support these people somehow, he needs to see that his concerns are groundless and should have caused him to do more research until he even started writing his book—and then stopped him from writing the silly book: "There were 5.6 million job openings in December, just shy of the all-time record of about 5.7 million set in July, according to Labor Department data published Tuesday. Good news: American companies are hiring, despite all the concern surrounding the U.S. economy." (Source: America has near record 5.6 million job openings, Patrick Gillespie@CNNMoney)


Bregman's Says There Aren't Enough Jobs, but America Has a Near Record 5.6 Million Job Openings Today. Oops!

Saying one just doesn't feel like doing jobs like plumbing, electical work, or truck driving brings a deluge of crocodile tears to our eyes
Saying one just doesn't feel like doing jobs like plumbing, electical work, or truck driving brings a deluge of crocodile tears to our eyes

It is applicants' responsibility to get the necessary training for their desired job, even if they have to be a free intern for a few months. It is also their job to check for underserved industries and wherever they see a big gap, like electricians, plumbers, and truck drivers, make sure they attend a vocational school for these openings. If people prefer to stay with their mommies because they're too spoiled to work, so be it.

Saying one just "doesn't feel like" doing jobs like plumbing, electical work, or truck driving brings a deluge of crocodile tears to our eyes, but we maintain still that preference is only a luxury of the highly trained or highly skilled. The rest of us must take what is offered and be grateful. If someone is jobless because he can't work (too young, [under 16], too old [senile or physically unable], or seriously disabled), the government must help (unless the young person has parents), but if someone is jobless because he won't work or is too fussy about which job, we agree with the wisdom of the Founders: if he gets hungry enough, he will quit being a lazy fool and work.


Bregman Is Way Too Excited about Naive and Silly Possibilties

It is possible that Trump is orange because he is an oversized oompa loompa and they will soon let him star in an oompa loompa-centric version of Wllly Wonka
It is possible that Trump is orange because he is an oversized oompa loompa and they will soon let him star in an oompa loompa-centric version of Wllly Wonka

There are several utopian ideas—such as universal basic income—that Bregman proves are possible today. But almost anything is "possible." It is possible that aliens will attack us tomorrow. So what? It is possible that Trump is orange because he is an oversized oompa loompa and they will soon let him star in an oompa loompa-centric version of Wllly Wonka. It's also possible that he isn't and they won't. So what?

It is possible that aliens will attack us tomorrow. So what?
It is possible that aliens will attack us tomorrow. So what?