Utopia for Realists by Rutger Bregman | Lessons & Book Review

Title: Utopia for Realists

Author: Rutger Bregman

Category: Nonfiction, Politics, Economics, Sociology

Rating: 4/5

10-word summary: We need to imagine a new utopia – this is mine.

About Utopia for Realists

Utopia for Realists is a book that offers a unique and different perspective on what the future should look like.

In this book, Rutger Bregman explores and presents his own version of utopia which includes Universal Basic Income, a 15-hour workweek and open borders. He presents each of these ideas, explains why they are a good idea and how they could make life better – for all of us.

The author strikes a good balance of utopia and realism, I believe. He presents each utopian idea and references available research or historical events to prove their validity. However, what the book lacks is the blueprint for implementing these utopian measures – or, at least, to get started.

Nevertheless, I believe that the book is worth reading if you are interested in the fate of the world. Above all, this book is a reminder that we influence the future and an invitation to think of the utopia we can create. But, most importantly, we should dare to believe that we can create a utopia in our world.

What I like about Utopia for Realists

1. The message of the book is brave and inspiring

I think Bregman presents an interesting utopian alternative for our future. And anyone who is willing to advocate for such radical initiatives is brave and inspiring at the same time.

Even though he is probably not the only person advocating for these measures, I still admire him for bravely sharing his views.

2. I like some of the ideas he proposed

I think Universal Basic Income is something we should definitely try to implement soon. Given the changes that are bound to happen because of the rise of AI and automation, UBI will help us cope with these changes and adapt.

The 15-hour work week is something that sounds appealing, but I believe it can only be applied for non-essential workers. The people who work as firefighters, doctors, police officers and more will have to work a full-time job.

However, I can imagine people in certain fields could only work for 15-20 hours and still get the same results. This is something we could test and then decide if implementing it to almost everyone is a good idea or not.

3. He often relies on research studies or past events to prove that his ideas would be beneficial

This is the part where Bregman combines utopia with realism. He shares an idea like UBI and then supports it with recent research and events from the past that indicated this initiative should work.

I think the research studies he reference throughout the book made me believe in his ideas even more – even though this is not a guarantee they will work everywhere in the world. It is, however, proof that we need to consider his ideas.

4. The book is well-written and easy to read

I think the book is well-written and very easy to read. The book is well-structured and the language is clear. It’s great for a general audience.

5. It helped me to reflect on and re-assess some of my biases and assumptions

Bregman’s arguments and the results of the studies he mentioned helped me re-assess and question some of my own opinions about UBI, poverty and more. It was really helpful to realize that I was probably wrong in some of my assumptions. I’m glad I had the chance to read this book that helped me reflect and revise my beliefs.

6. It can inspire us to imagine our own utopias

In this book, Bregman does more than advocate for the initiatives he believes in. He also wants to remind us that we always need a utopia to strive for.

Since we live in the best moment in the history of humankind, he believes we can – and perhaps we should – dream of ways we can make the world an even better place.

He ends the book on a high note, reminding us that ideas can truly change the world. So we should imagine what we want to change it into.

What I don’t like about Utopia for Realists

1. A deeper analysis may challenge some of his ideas

One of the main topics of the book is UBI (Universal Basic Income). This means that the government should give citizens a monthly amount of money with no strings attached. That sounds like a great idea, if you ask me.

But if we give everyone more money every month, won’t this drive up the prices of many products? Isn’t there a possibility that the prices would go up so much that the benefits of the UBI will be annulled?

Also, let us think about this: if people suddenly have more money, they will spend more money – often on physical products. But the more products people buy, the more we pollute and destroy the environment. Isn’t this something we should consider as well?

Bregman also advocates for open borders. He believes that letting people travel freely will increase equality, thus making people’s lives better. But I think he just isn’t putting things in perspective.

Why do people need to travel to another country or continent to get a good job and live a good life? This is mainly because there is a big discrepancy in the amount people are paid to do their jobs.

But, if the problem is the difference in salaries, shouldn’t we try to fix that? Wouldn’t it be better if people were paid the same amount everywhere in the world – same amount for the same kind of job and same level of qualifications.

If we could ensure equal and fair payment for works, there is no need for open borders. People could earn more and live comfortable lives without having to emigrate to a different country or continent.

And let’s not forget that, if we allow everyone to travel freely, we have no idea what will happen to some countries. I imagine that many people from Asia, Africa and South America will emigrate to North America or Western Europe.

What will happen to the governments of the countries people emigrate to? And will this influx of workers not allow companies to pay people less?

What will happen to the people who cannot or do not want to leave their countries? Don’t they also deserve to be paid fairly and to live comfortable lives without having to relocate?

If you think about it, I think open borders is not the best solution to poverty and inequality. I believe it would be far better – and easier – to try to ensure workers are paid fairly and equally all over the world.

2. He never mentions any potential negative outcomes

I know that the book is focused on utopia. But I would have liked a higher dose of realism. While reading this book, I got the feeling that the author cannot imagine that his initiatives could also have negative effects on people, communities or on the world.

This means either that he is unaware of the diverse impact his ideas could have, or that he decided to ignore that aspect of the problem.

This is something that makes me be more skeptical of his version of utopia. I think that even measures that sound like good ideas can have potential negative effects. And we need to think about those too, if we want to prevent them.

I would be much more impressed by a book about a utopian plan that also explores the negative impact this utopia could have. Or, at least, I would like to see the author acknowledge this possibility.

3. The author does not include a blueprint for how to implement his ideas – or at least how to get started

Even though I liked some of the ideas the author advocates for, I have no idea how they could be implemented. I also don’t know if I could do something to help further this cause.

I know that utopias are not easy to create or implement. But this is precisely the reason why I think he should have included a path for us. The fact that he only presented his ideals makes them feel more out of reach for us.

4. The book could have been shorter

I think I say this about most books, but Utopia for Realists could easily have been a shorter book. I think the author could have presented his ideas in 100-150 pages without leaving out any important information.

Lessons from Utopia for Realists

We always need to have a utopia to strive for

Bregman begins his book by reminding us how much progress we have made. We are now living in a safe world, we are healthy and we live longer. However, we have nothing to strive for.

He believes we should always think of a utopia and work towards making that real. He thinks there are problems that we need to solve (poverty and homelessness) and we still have goals to aim for.

And he thinks we should have the courage to think of outrageous goals for humanity. After all, many things we take out for granted now initially started as ideas that were dismissed for being too radical. We should dare dream of a better world again.

We should have a Universal Basic Income

A UBI (Universal Basic Income) is a fixed amount of money that everybody should receive from the government every month – with no questions asked. Bregaman believes we need to implement a UBI to help lift people out of poverty. More than this, we also need to realize that more jobs will be lost due to automation, so a UBI might support people during this transition.

We should have a 15-hour workweek

Bregman thinks we can work much less than we do and still live comfortable lives. He thinks that we should stop overworking and letting stress affect us so much. He advocates for a 15-hour work week that will give us more free time to focus on our personal lives.

We should have open borders

Rutger complains about economic inequality in the world. His solution to this problem is open borders. He states that when people can move freely, they prosper and this might be the solution we need.

Quotes from Utopia for Realists

“Science fiction is becoming science fact.”

“Welcome, in other words, to the Land of Plenty. To the good life, where almost everyone is rich, safe, and healthy. Where there’s only one thing we lack: a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Because, after all, you can’t really improve on paradise.”

“Never before has the time been so ripe for the introduction of a universal, unconditional basic income.”

“There are strong indications that in a modern knowledge economy, even forty hours a week is too much.”

“Perhaps in a century or so we’ll look back on these boundaries the way we look back on slavery and apartheid today.”

“Ideas, however outrageous, have changed the world, and they will again.”

Should You Read Utopia for Realists?

Maybe. If you are preoccupied about the state of the world and you want to explore different alternatives, this book is a good starting point. If you are interested in the ideas he supports, this book can help you learn a bit about the scientific data we have available at the moment.

If you are interested in a blueprint for creating a utopia or in exploring different kinds of utopias, maybe you can skip this book.

I believe Utopia for Realists is a good book that is bound to make you reflect on how we can truly make this world better for all of us. The book is not perfect, but neither is the world we live in. It’s up to us all to change that and to shape the future. It’s up to us to find a new utopia to dream about!

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