1 thought on “Review: ‘Utopia for Realists’ by Rutger Bregman”

  1. Posted 05/10/2017 at 03:39 | Permalink

    A few responses to your arguments here.

    1) “There are not many people in full-time work who are desperately trying to find part-time work, but there are always a large number of reluctant part-timers who would prefer to be working full-time.”

    The use of the word “prefer” here is misleading. If working more hours were merely a matter of preference in the same way that I prefer one TV to another, then we would see less full time work. And that would be better because we would have more time spent parenting, participating in the political process, learning, and reducing stressors generally.

    But we don’t see that because people don’t *want* to work more, they *have to*. Consider the costs of rent, food, power, medical costs, insurance, and a miasma of other expenses. The idea that a part time job, which would also tend to pay less, is sufficient for average costs of living is remarkably optimistic at best.

    2) “We need to be told whether it will generate a net saving or a net loss. Bregman says that poverty could be eradicated in the USA for what he suggests is a modest $175 billion a year, but this $175 billion is on top of the many billions already being spent to relieve poverty.”

    I agree, we should know the costs of policies before implementing them. But moral imperatives are implicit in the basic income that can’t be weighed numerically.

    If you weigh helping not just workers but the homeless and others as equal to budgetary concerns then your argument is of secondary importance. The only relevant concern is to ensure that we don’t defeat the point of the basic income by charging people too much for it.

    3) “His chapter about mechanisation does not give a convincing reason why we should view the current hysteria about ‘robots taking our jobs’ any differently to previous Luddite movements. And do we really need another bog standard critique of GDP, a measure of economic output that no one has ever claimed was the sole measure of progress?”

    But there is good reason to fear a certain level of automation. Certainly, you are right about some automation. In existing levels, automation tends to simply move jobs elsewhere as demand indirectly creates new work.

    But what happens when the robot replaces the human being entirely? What happens when human beings go the way of horses when the engine was invented?

    Demand cannot be infinite and I disagree that human desires are either since we can only consume so much and are satiated at some point. At some point, the automation situation will drastically change our economy when a certain threshold is reached.

    Many economists will mock that argument until the year it comes true.

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