Utopia for Realists
Author: Bregman, Rutger
Notes by: Jacopo Perfetti.
1. The Return of Utopia
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In the past, everything was worse. For roughly 99% of the world’s history, 99% of humanity was poor, hungry, dirty, afraid, stupid, sick, and ugly.
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Where 84% of the world’s population still lived in extreme poverty in 1820, by 1981 that percentage had dropped to 44%, and now, just a few decades later, it is under 10%. 1
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The past two centuries have seen explosive growth in both population and prosperity worldwide.
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Per capita income is now ten times what it was in 1850.
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And the global economy? It is now 250 times what it was before the Industrial Revolution
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The Medieval Utopia
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These days, there are more people suffering from obesity worldwide than from hunger.
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Today, the old medieval dream of the utopia is running on empty.
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we are living in an age of biblical prophecies come true. What would have seemed miraculous in the Middle Ages is now commonplace
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Meanwhile, science fiction is becoming science fact.
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For a long time, the Land of Plenty was reserved for a small elite in the wealthy West. Those days are over.
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between 1994 and 2014, the number of people with Internet access worldwide leaped from 0.4% to 40.4%.
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Worldwide, life expectancy grew from sixty - four years in 1990 to seventy in 201212 – more than double what it was in 1900.
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the number of people suffering from malnutrition has shrunk by more than a third since 1990.
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More than 2.1 billion people finally got access to clean drinking water
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child mortality fell an incredible 41%, and maternal deaths were cut in half.
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more and more children are getting immunized against once common diseases.
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fifty years ago, one in five children died before reaching their fifth birthday. Today? One in twenty.
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In 1836, the richest man in the world, one Nathan Meyer Rothschild, died due to a simple lack of antibiotics.
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In 1962, as many as 41% of kids didn’t go to school, as opposed to under 10% today.
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the number of war casualties per year has plummeted 90% since 1946.
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A Bleak Paradise
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Welcome, in other words, to the Land of Plenty.
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Where there’s only one thing we lack: a reason to get out of bed in the morning
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We live in an era of wealth and overabundance, but how bleak it is.
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There is “neither art nor philosophy,” Fukuyama says. All that’s left is the “perpetual caretaking of the museum of human history.”
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the real crisis is that we can’t come up with anything better.
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The Blueprint
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distinguish between two forms of utopian thought.
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Asking the Right Questions
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utopia is dangerous when taken too seriously.
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As people and societies get progressively older they become accustomed to the status quo, in which liberty can become a prison, and the truth can become lies.
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The Destruction of the Grand Narrative
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history is full of horrifying forms of utopianism – fascism, communism, Nazism – just as every religion has also spawned fanatical sects.
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without utopia, all that remains is a technocracy.
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What counts is achieving targets. Whether it’s the growth of the economy, audience shares, publications – slowly but surely, quality is being replaced by quantity.
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And driving it all is a force sometimes called “liberalism,”
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Freedom may be our highest ideal, but ours has become an empty freedom.
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kids today are struggling under the burden of too much pampering.
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there has been a sharp rise in self - esteem since the 1980s.
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The younger generation considers itself smarter, more responsible, and more attractive than ever.
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“It’s a generation in which every kid has been told, ‘ You can be anything you want. You’re special, ’”
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Not surprisingly, that narcissism conceals an ocean of uncertainty.
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we have all become a lot more fearful over the last decades.
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the average child living in early 1990s North America was more anxious than psychiatric patients in the early 1950s.
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depression has even become the biggest health problem among teens and will be the number - one cause of illness worldwide by 2030.31
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In the 1950s, only 12% of young adults agreed with the statement “I’m a very special person.” Today 80% do,
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The widespread nostalgia, the yearning for a past that never really was, suggests that we still have ideals, even if we have buried them alive.
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The Return of Utopia
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The word utopia means both “good place” and “no place.”
2. Why We Should Give Free Money to Everyone
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Faye doesn’t give people fish, or even teach them to fish. He gives them cash, in the conviction that the real experts on what poor people need are the poor people themselves.
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Studies from all over the world offer proof positive: Free money works.
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“The big reason poor people are poor is because they don’t have enough money,” notes economist Charles Kenny, “and it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that giving them money is a great way to reduce that problem.”
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these programs ’ benefits: (1) households put the money to good use, (2) poverty declines, (3) there can be diverse long - term benefits for income, health, and tax revenues, and (4) the programs cost less than the alternatives. 16
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“Poverty is fundamentally about a lack of cash. It’s not about stupidity,” stresses the economist Joseph Hanlon. “You can’t pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you have no boots.”
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free money for everyone. Not as a favor, but as a right. Call it the “capitalist road to communism
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The researchers wanted answers to three questions: (1) Would people work significantly less if they receive a guaranteed income? (2) Would the program be too expensive? (3) Would it prove politically unfeasible? The answers were no, no, and yes.
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the countries with the most universal government programs have been the most successful at reducing poverty. 51 Basically, people are more open to solidarity if it benefits them personally.
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The more we, our family, and our friends stand to gain through the welfare state, the more we’re willing to contribute.
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Greater flexibility in the workplace demands that we also create greater security.
3. The End of Poverty
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The poor borrow more, save less, smoke more, exercise less, drink more, and eat less healthfully. Offer money - management training and the poor are the last to sign up. When responding to job ads, the poor often write the worst applications and show up at interviews in the least professional attire.
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if there’s a perceived silver bullet in the fight against poverty, it’s a high - school diploma (or even better, a college degree).
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the drawbacks of a “scarcity mentality” are greater than the benefits. Scarcity narrows your focus to your immediate lack, to the meeting that’s starting in five minutes or the bills that need to be paid tomorrow.
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Scarcity consumes you,” Shafir explains. “You’re less able to focus on other things that are also important to you.”
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Poor people have an analogous problem. They’re not making dumb decisions because they are dumb, but because they’re living in a context in which anyone would make dumb decisions
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“If you want to understand the poor, imagine yourself with your mind elsewhere,” they write. “Self - control feels like a challenge. You are distracted and easily perturbed. And this happens every day.” This is how scarcity – whether of time or of money – leads to unwise decisions.
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You can’t take a break from poverty.
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how much dumber does poverty make you? “Our effects correspond to between 13 and 14 IQ points,”
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the area’s sugarcane farmers collect 60% of their annual income all at once right after the harvest. This means they are flush one part of the year and poor the other. So how did they do in the experiment? At the time when they were comparatively poor, they scored substantially worse on the cognitive tests,
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purely and simply because their mental bandwidth was compromised.
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a policy to eliminate poverty “could largely pay for itself.”
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combating poverty “pays for itself by the time the poor children have reached middle age.” 15
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Educating people certainly isn’t entirely pointless, but it can only go so far in helping them to manage their mental bandwidth, already taxed, as it is, by demands like the impossible bureaucratic mire of the welfare state.
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The poor – those whose bandwidth is already overtaxed, whose need is greatest – are the least likely to ask Uncle Sam for help. Consequently, a whole array of programs goes all but unused by the very people they are meant to benefit.
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If lots of people are buying the latest smartphone, then you want one, too. As long as inequality continues to rise, the gross domestic mental bandwidth will continue to contract.
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“As you get more and more of anything, each addition … contributes less and less to your well - being.”
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Whether you look at the incidence of depression, burnout, drug abuse, high dropout rates, obesity, unhappy childhoods, low election turnout, or social and political distrust, the evidence points to the same culprit every time: inequality
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However wealthy a country gets, inequality always rains on the parade. Being poor in a rich country is a whole different story to being poor a couple centuries ago, when almost everybody, everywhere was a pauper.
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Countries with big disparities in wealth also have more bullying behavior, because there are bigger status differences.
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the “psychosocial consequences” are such that people living in unequal societies spend more time worrying about how others see them.
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more concerned with equal opportunities than with equal wealth?
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these two forms of inequality are inextricable.
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there’s almost no country on Earth where the American Dream is less likely to come true than in the U.S.
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even rich people suffer when inequality becomes too great. They, too, become more prone to depression, suspicion, and myriad other social difficulties. 23
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a drifter living on the street cost the government $ 16,670 a year (for social services, police, courts, etc.). An apartment plus professional counseling, by contrast, cost a modest $ 11,000.30
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Sadly, instead of trying to cure the ailment, we continually opt to fight the symptoms, with police chasing vagrants around, doctors treating rough sleepers only to turn them back out onto the streets,
4. The Bizarre Tale of President Nixon and His Basic Income Bill
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The past teaches us a simple but crucial lesson: Things could be different
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The same man who was forced to resign after the Watergate scandal in 1974 had been on the verge, in 1969, of enacting an unconditional income for all poor families
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this six - page document, a case report about something that had happened in England 150 years before, did the unthinkable: It completely changed Nixon’s mind, and, in the process, changed the course of history.
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the Speenhamland system, in early nineteenth - century England.
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“the pauperization of the masses,” who, according to Polanyi, “almost lost their human shape.” A basic income introduced not a floor, he contended, but a ceiling.
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The president changed tack and settled on a new rhetoric. Where his basic income plan had initially made almost no provision to compel people to work, he now began stressing the importance of gainful employment.
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“Nixon was proposing a new kind of social provision to the American public,” writes the historian Brian Steensland, “but he did not offer them a new conceptual framework through which to understand it.”
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Nixon saw basic income as the ultimate marriage of conservative and progressive politics.
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Even Karl Marx used it as the basis for his condemnation of the Speenhamland system in his magnum opus Das Kapital (1867) thirty years later. Poor relief, he said, was a tactic employers used to keep wages as low as possible by putting the onus on local government.
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Speenhamland was the textbook example of a government program that had, with the best of intentions, paved the road to hell.
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had Nixon’s plan gone ahead, the ramifications would have been huge. Public assistance programs would no longer be seen as simply pandering to lazy opportunists. No longer would there be such a thing as the “deserving” or “undeserving” poor.
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Had the United States, the world’s wealthiest nation, gone this route, there’s little doubt other countries would have followed suit.
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These days, the idea of a basic income for all Americans is, in Steensland’s words, as “unthinkable” as “women’s suffrage and equal rights for racial minorities” were in the past.
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Orwell recalls spending entire days simply lying in bed because there was nothing worth getting up for. The crux of poverty, he says, is that “it annihilates the future.”
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In recent decades, our welfare states have come to look increasingly like surveillance states. Using Big Brother tactics, Big Government is forcing us into a Big Society.
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spending a workweek attending pointless workshops or performing mindless tasks leaves less time for parenting, education, and looking for a real job. 36
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every application for assistance has its own debasing, money - guzzling protocol. “It tramples on privacy and self - respect in a way inconceivable to anyone outside the benefit system,” says one British social services worker. “It creates a noxious fog of suspicion
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If there’s one thing that we capitalists have in common with the communists of old, it’s a pathological obsession with gainful employment
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the fallacy that a life without poverty is a privilege you have to work for, rather than a right we all deserve.
5. New Figures for a New Era
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Japan was experiencing the effects of an enduring economic law which holds that every disaster has a silver lining – at least for the GDP.
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It was the same with the Great Depression. The United States only really started to climb out of the crisis when it entered the biggest catastrophe of the last century: World War II.
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The GDP also does a poor job of calculating advances in knowledge.
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Free products can even cause the economy to contract
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Today, the average African with a cell phone has access to more information than President Clinton did in the 1990s, yet the information sector’s share of the economy hasn’t budged from twenty - five years ago, before we had the Internet.
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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 berserk on Black Friday.
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Mental illness, obesity, pollution, crime – in terms of the GDP, the more the better.
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“By the standard of the GDP,” says the writer Jonathan Rowe, “the worst families in America are those that actually function as families – that cook their own meals, take walks after dinner and talk together instead of just farming the kids out to the commercial culture.”
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The GDP is equally indifferent to inequality
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The more risk, the bigger their slice of the GDP.
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“If banking had been subtracted from the GDP, rather than added to it,” the Financial Times recently reported, “it is plausible to speculate that the financial crisis would never have happened.”
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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
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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.
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The idea that the GDP still serves as an accurate gauge of social welfare is one of the most widespread myths of our times.
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When people around 1900 talked about “the economy,” they usually just meant “society.” But the 1950s introduced a new generation of technocrats who invented a whole new objective: getting the “economy” to “grow.”
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They had mastered a trick no one else could do: managing reality and predicting the future.
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During wartime, it makes sense to pollute the environment and go into debt.
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Indeed, during wartime, there’s no metric quite as useful as the GDP.
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Our statistics no longer capture the shape of our economy. And this has consequences. Every era needs its own figures. In the eighteenth century, they concerned the size of the harvest. In the nineteenth century, the radius of the rail network, the number of factories, and the volume of coal mining. And in the twentieth, industrial mass production within the boundaries of the nation - state.
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But today it’s no longer possible to express our prosperity in simple dollars, pounds, or euros.
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As long ago as 1972, the Fourth Dragon King of Bhutan proposed a switch to measuring “gross national happiness,” since GDP ignored vital facets of culture and well - being (for starters, knowledge of traditional songs and dances).
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John Stuart Mill once said: “Better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.” 26
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If the Land of Plenty is a place where everybody is happy, then it’s also a place steeped in apathy. Had women never protested, they would never have gained the vote;
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So how about some other options?
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Two candidates are the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) and the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare (ISEW), which also incorporate pollution, crime, inequality, and volunteer work in their equations.
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Or how about the Happy Planet Index,
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A high score on the UN’s Human Development Index or the OECD’s Better Life Index may be something we should applaud, but not if we don’t know what is being measured.
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What’s certain is that the wealthier countries become, the more difficult it is to measure that wealth.
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this phenomenon, now known as “Baumol’s cost disease,” basically says that prices in labor - intensive sectors such as healthcare and education increase faster than prices in sectors where most of the work can be more extensively automated.
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According to Baumol, the main impediment to allocating our resources toward such noble ends is “the illusion that we cannot afford them.” As illusions go, this one is pretty stubborn. When you’re obsessed with efficiency and productivity, it’s difficult to see the real value of education and care. Which is why so many politicians and taxpayers alike see only costs.
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They don’t realize that the richer a country becomes the more it should be spending on teachers and doctors. Instead of regarding these increases as a blessing, they’re viewed as a disease.
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a British think tank estimated that for every pound earned by advertising executives, they destroy an equivalent of £ 7 in the form of stress, overconsumption, pollution, and debt; conversely, each pound paid to a trash collector creates an equivalent of £ 12 in terms of health and sustainability.
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“We can afford to pay more for the services we need – chiefly healthcare and education,” Baumol writes. “What we may not be able to afford are the consequences of falling costs.”
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The inventor of GDP cautioned against including in its calculation expenditure for the military, advertising, and the financial sector, 33 but his advice fell on deaf ears.
6. A Fifteen-Hour Workweek
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By 2030, Keynes said, mankind would be confronted with the greatest challenge it had ever faced: what to do with a sea of spare time.
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According to Mill, technology should be used to curb the workweek as far as possible. “There would be as much scope as ever for all kinds of mental culture, and moral and social progress,” he wrote, “as much room for improving the Art of Living.” 2 Yet the Industrial Revolution, which propelled the nineteenth century’s explosive economic growth, had brought about the exact opposite of leisure.
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Henry Ford
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became the first to implement a five - day workweek.
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Henry Ford had discovered that a shorter workweek actually increased productivity among his employees.
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A well - rested worker was a more effective worker.
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Working would soon be reserved for the elite.
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In the summer of 1964, the New York Times asked the great science - fiction author Isaac Asimov to take a shot at forecasting the future.
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There was just one thing, ultimately, that worried him: the spread of boredom. Mankind, he wrote, would become “largely a race of machine tenders,” and there would be “serious mental, emotional and sociological consequences.” Psychiatry would be the largest medical specialty
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work and leisure are becoming increasingly difficult to disentangle.
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according to Korean research, the smartphone has the average employee working eleven more hours per week.
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It’s safe to say the predictions of the great minds didn’t exactly come true.
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We aren’t bored to death; we’re working ourselves to death.
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Time is money. Economic growth can yield either more leisure or more consumption. From 1850 until 1980, we got both, but since then, it is mostly consumption that has increased.
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Even where real incomes have stayed the same and inequality has exploded, the consumption craze has continued, but on credit.
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And that’s precisely the main argument that has been brought to bear against the shorter workweek: We can’t afford it. More leisure is a wonderful ideal, but it’s simply too expensive.
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What Ford, Kellogg, and Heath had all discovered is that productivity and long work hours do not go hand in hand.
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Research suggests that someone who is constantly drawing on their creative abilities can, on average, be productive for no more than six hours a day.
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Is there anything that working less does not solve?
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Stress? Countless studies have shown that people who work less are more satisfied with their lives.
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Climate change? A worldwide shift to a shorter workweek could cut the CO2 emitted this century by half.
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Accidents? Overtime is deadly. 41 Long workdays lead to more errors:
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Unemployment? Obviously, you can’t simply chop a job up into smaller pieces. The labor market isn’t a game
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Emancipation of women? Countries with short workweeks consistently top gender - equality rankings.
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Aging population? An increasing share of the older population wants to continue working even after hitting retirement
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Inequality? The countries with the biggest disparities in wealth are precisely those with the longest workweeks.
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Working less provides the bandwidth for other things that are also important to us, like family, community involvement, and recreation.
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Reduction of work first has to be reinstated as a political ideal.
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It all starts with reversing incentives.
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Currently, it’s cheaper for employers to have one person work overtime than to hire two part - time.
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At the end of the workday in almost every office you can find exhausted staff sitting at their desks aimlessly browsing the Facebook profiles of people they don’t know, waiting until the first of their coworkers has left for the day.
7. Why It Doesn’t Pay to Be a Banker
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Wall Street traders
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shrewd lawyers
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ad writer
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Instead of creating wealth, these jobs mostly just shift it around.
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Bizarrely, it’s precisely the jobs that shift money around – creating next to nothing of tangible value – that net the best salaries. It’s a fascinating, paradoxical state of affairs. 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?
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This is what economic progress is all about. As our farms and factories grew more efficient, they accounted for a shrinking share of our economy. And the more productive agriculture and manufacturing became, the fewer people they employed.
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Ironically, however, it has also created a system in which an increasing number of people can earn money without contributing anything of tangible value to society. Call it the paradox of progress: Here in the Land of Plenty, the richer and the smarter we get, the more expendable we become.
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“Maybe, just maybe,” the author and economist Umair Haque conjectures, “banks need people a lot more than people need banks.”
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The bottom line is that wealth can be concentrated somewhere, but that doesn’t also mean that’s where it’s being created.
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In Graeber’s analysis, innumerable people spend their entire working lives doing jobs they consider to be pointless,
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Bullshit jobs,” Graeber calls them. They’re the jobs that even the people doing them admit are, in essence, superfluous.
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As long as we continue to be obsessed with work, work, and more work (even as useful activities are further automated or outsourced), the number of superfluous jobs will only continue to grow.
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Much like the number of managers in the developed world, which has grown over the last thirty years without making us a dime richer. On the contrary, studies show that countries with more managers are actually less productive and innovative.
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scenarios where, 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.
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In fact, it has become increasingly profitable not to innovate. Imagine just how much progress we’ve missed out on because thousands of bright minds have frittered away their time dreaming up hypercomplex financial products that are ultimately only destructive.
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Imagine that all this talent were to be invested not in shifting wealth around, but in creating it.
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A study conducted at Harvard found that Reagan - era tax cuts sparked a mass career switch among the country’s brightest minds, from teachers and engineers to bankers and accountants
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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 – and often much more – is pumped back into the economy.
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If you were to draw up a list of the most influential professions, teacher would likely rank among the highest.
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That may sound dramatic, but take an ordinary elementary school teacher. Forty years at the head of a class of twenty - five children amounts to influencing the lives of 1,000 children. Moreover, that teacher is molding pupils at an age when they’re at their most malleable.
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we should be posing a different question altogether: Which knowledge and skills do we want our children to have in 2030?
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Instead of wondering what we need to do to make a living in this or that bullshit job, we could ponder how we want to make a living.
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If we restructure education around our new ideals, the job market will happily tag along.
8. Race Against the Machine
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“The role of humans as the most important factor of production is bound to diminish,” Nobel laureate Wassily Leontief wrote back in 1983, “in the same way that the role of horses in agricultural production was first diminished and then eliminated by the introduction of tractors.”
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Labor is becoming less and less scarce. Technological advances are putting the inhabitants of the Land of Plenty in direct competition with billions of working people across the world, and in competition with machines themselves.
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today only 58% of industrialized nations ’ wealth goes to pay people’s salaries. It may sound like a fractional difference, but in fact it’s a shift of seismic proportions. Various factors are involved, including the decline of labor unions, the growth of the financial sector, lower taxes on capital, and the rise of the Asian giants. But the most important cause? Technological progress
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take an ordinary jar of Nutella chocolate spread. The Italian brand is made in factories in Brazil, Argentina, Europe, Australia, and Russia with chocolate sourced from Nigeria, palm oil from Malaysia, vanilla flavoring from China, and sugar from Brazil.
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We may be living in the age of individualism, but our societies have never been more dependent on one another.
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Economists call this phenomenon the “winner - take - all society.”
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in one sector after another the giants have grown even as the world has shrunk.
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By now, inequality is ballooning in almost every developed country. In the U.S., the gap between rich and poor is already wider than it was in ancient Rome – an economy founded on slave labor.
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Kodak, inventor of the digital camera and a company that in the late 1980s had 145,000 people on its payroll. In 2012, it filed for bankruptcy, while Instagram – the free online mobile photo service staffed by 13 people at the time – was sold to Facebook for $ 1 billion.
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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.
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look at the year 1800, some 74% of all Americans were farmers, whereas by 1900 this figure was down to 31%, and by 2000 to a mere 3%.
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A hundred years ago,
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Computers were workers – mostly women – who did simple sums all day.
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Futurologist Ray Kurzweil is convinced that by 2029 computers will be just as intelligent as people. In 2045 they might even be a billion times smarter than all human brains put together.
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The British economist Guy Standing has predicted the emergence of a new, dangerous “precariat” – a surging social class of people in low - wage, temporary jobs and with no political voice.
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The Luddite rebellion, at its height around 1811, was brutally crushed. More than 100 men were hanged. They had declared a war on machines, but it was the machines that won.
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The word “robot” actually comes from the Czech robota, meaning “toil.” Humans created robots to do precisely those things they’d rather not do themselves.
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Dutch chess grandmaster Jan Hein Donner. When asked what his strategy would be if he were pitted against a computer, he didn’t have to think long. “I’d bring a hammer.”
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If we want to hold onto the blessings of technology, ultimately there’s only one choice left, and that’s redistribution. Massive redistribution.
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Redistribution of money (basic income), of time (a shorter working week), of taxation (on capital instead of labor), and, of course, of robots.
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“We have to save capitalism from the capitalists,” Piketty concludes. 39 This paradox is neatly summed up by an anecdote from the 1960s. When Henry Ford’s grandson gave labor union leader Walter Reuther a tour of the company’s new, automated factory, he jokingly asked, “Walter, how are you going to get those robots to pay your union dues?” Without missing a beat, Reuther answered, “Henry, how are you going to get them to buy your cars?”
9. Beyond the Gates of the Land of Plenty
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The Western world spends $ 134.8 billion a year,
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on foreign development aid.
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the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan cost about the same.
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According to a study done by the World Bank, 85% of all Western aid in the twentieth century was used differently than intended.
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Even in 1799, the year Alessandro Volta invented the electric battery, President George Washington was relieved of several pints of blood to treat a sore throat. Two days later, he died. Bloodletting, in other words, is a case where the remedy is worse than the disease. The question is, does the same apply to development aid?
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What the randomistas want is numbers – incontrovertible data to show which aid helps, and which doesn’t.
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This is nothing less than a whole new approach to economics. The randomistas don’t think in terms of models. They don’t believe humans are rational actors. Instead, they assume we are quixotic creatures, sometimes foolish and sometimes astute, and by turns afraid, altruistic, and self - centered. And this approach appears to yield considerably better results.
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I’m talking about open borders. Not just for bananas, derivatives, and iPhones, but for one and all – for knowledge workers, for refugees, and for ordinary people in search of greener pastures.
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the estimated growth in “gross worldwide product” would be in the range of 67% to 147%. 17 Effectively, open borders would make the whole world twice as rich.
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According to the International Monetary Fund, lifting the remaining restrictions on capital would free up at most $ 65 billion.
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we mostly reserve our outrage for the injustices that happen inside our own national borders.
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In the twenty - first century, the real elite are those born not in the right family or the right class but in the right country. 34 Yet this modern elite is scarcely aware of how lucky it is.
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Opening up our borders, even just a crack, is by far the most powerful weapon we have in the global fight against poverty.
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But sadly, it’s an idea that keeps getting beaten back by the same old faulty arguments.
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(1) They’re all terrorists
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(2) They’re all criminals Not according to the data. As it happens, people making a new life in the U.S. commit fewer offenses and less frequently end up in prison than the native population.
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(3) They will undermine social cohesion
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A later retrospective analysis of ninety studies found no correlation whatsoever between diversity and social cohesion.
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So, if diversity isn’t to blame for the lack of cohesion in modern - day society, what is? The answer is simple: poverty, unemployment, and discrimination.
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(4) They’ll take our jobs
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A bigger workforce means more consumption, more demand, more jobs.
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(5) Cheap immigrant labor will force our wages down To disprove this fallacy, we can turn to a study by the Center for Immigration Studies – a think tank that opposes immigration – which found that immigration has virtually no effect on wages.
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(6) They’re too lazy to work
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(7) They’ll never go back This brings us to a fascinating paradox: Open borders promote immigrants ’ return.
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In a world of insane inequality, migration is the most powerful tool for fighting poverty.
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The richest country in the world, the United States, is a nation built on immigration.
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Three - quarters of all border walls and fences were erected after the year 2000.
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Humans didn’t evolve by staying in one place. Wanderlust is in our blood. Go back a few generations and almost everybody has an immigrant in the family tree.
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Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says everyone has the right to leave their country, but guarantees no one the right to move to the Land of Plenty.
10. How Ideas Change the World
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“A man with a conviction is a hard man to change.”
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Cognitive dissonance,” he termed it. When reality clashes with our deepest convictions, we’d rather recalibrate reality than amend our worldview. Not only that, we become even more rigid in our beliefs than before.
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it’s when our political, ideological, or religious ideas are at stake that we get the most stubborn.
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One factor that certainly is not involved is stupidity. Researchers at Yale University have shown that educated people are more unshakable in their convictions than anybody.
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After all, an education gives you tools to defend your opinions. Intelligent people are highly practiced in finding arguments, experts, and studies that underpin their preexisting beliefs, and the Internet has made it easier than ever to be consumers of our own opinions, with another piece of evidence always just a mouse - click away.
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Smart people, concludes the American journalist Ezra Klein, don’t use their intellect to obtain the correct answer; they use it to obtain what they want to be the answer.
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Solomon Asch demonstrated that group pressure can even cause us to ignore what we can plainly see with our own eyes.
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Political scientists have established that how people vote is determined less by their perceptions about their own lives than by their conceptions of society.
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When we cast our vote, we do so not just for ourselves, but for the group we want to belong to.
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But Solomon Asch made another discovery. A single opposing voice can make all the difference. When just one other person in the group stuck to the truth, the test subjects were more likely to trust the evidence of their own senses. Let this be an encouragement to all those who feel like a lone voice crying out in the wilderness: Keep on building those castles in the sky. Your time will come.
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In 2008, it seemed as if that time had finally come when we were confronted with the biggest case of cognitive dissonance since the 1930s. On September 15, the investment bank Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy.
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So what happened after September 15, 2008?
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Fundamental reform of the banking sector has yet to happen. On Wall Street, bankers are seeing the highest bonus payments since the crash. 12 And the banks ’ capital buffers are as minuscule as ever. Joris Luyendijk, a journalist at the Guardian who spent two years looking under the hood of London’s financial sector, summed up the experience in 2013 as follows: “It’s like standing at Chernobyl and seeing they’ve restarted the reactor but still have the same old management.”
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almost seems that back in 2008 we were unable to make that choice. When we suddenly found ourselves facing the collapse of the entire banking sector, there were no real alternatives available; all we could do was keep plodding down the same path.
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Nowadays, “neoliberal” is a put - down leveled at anybody who doesn’t agree with the left. Hayek and Friedman, however, were proud neoliberals who saw it as their duty to reinvent liberalism. 14 “We must make the building of a free society once more an intellectual adventure,” Hayek wrote. “What we lack is a liberal Utopia.”
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In the 1970s, Hayek handed the presidency of the Society over to Friedman. Under the leadership of this diminutive, bespectacled American whose energy and enthusiasm surpassed even that of his Austrian predecessor, the society radicalized. Essentially, there wasn’t a problem around that Friedman didn’t blame on government. And the solution, in every case, was the free market.
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In the preface to his bestselling Capitalism and Freedom, he wrote that it is the duty of thinkers to keep offering alternatives. Ideas that seem “politically impossible” today may one day become “politically inevitable.”
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When Lehman Brothers collapsed on September 15, 2008, and inaugurated the biggest crisis since the 1930s, there were no real alternatives to hand. No one had laid the groundwork. For years, intellectuals, journalists, and politicians had all firmly maintained that we’d reached the end of the age of “big narratives” and that it was time to trade in ideologies for pragmatism.
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Overton realized that politicians, provided they want to be reelected, can’t permit themselves viewpoints that are seen as too extreme. In order to hold power, they have to keep their ideas within the margins of what’s acceptable.
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Anybody who forays outside the “Overton window” faces a rocky road. He or she will quickly be branded as “unrealistic” or “unreasonable” by the media,
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And yet, despite all this, a society can change completely in a few decades. The Overton window can shift. A classic strategy for achieving this is to proclaim ideas so shocking and subversive that anything less radical suddenly sounds sensible. In other words, to make the radical reasonable, you merely have to stretch the bounds of the radical.
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Sadly, the underdog socialist has forgotten that the story of the left ought to be a narrative of hope and progress.
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The greatest sin of the academic left is that it has become fundamentally aristocratic, writing in bizarre jargon that makes simple matters dizzyingly complex. If you can’t explain your ideal to a fairly intelligent twelve - year - old, after all, it’s probably your own fault. What we need is a narrative that speaks to millions of ordinary people.
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Australian writer Bronnie Ware published a book titled The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, about patients she had tended during her nursing career.
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The biggest regret was: “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” Number two: “I wish I didn’t work so hard.”
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it’s time for a new labor movement. One that fights not only for more jobs and higher wages, but more importantly for work that has intrinsic value.