Utopia for Realists

Rutger Bregman, author of Utopia for Realists and the Dutch historian from the viral video calling out billionaires at Davos (“taxes taxes taxes, all the rest is bullshit in my opinion”), talking to Ezra Klein in Vox:

We should never underestimate capitalism’s extraordinary ability to come up with new bullshit jobs.

We could theoretically live in some kind of dystopia where we’re all just pretending to work and sending emails and writing unnecessary reports, and the robots are doing all the real, valuable work.

Now, who are these people? They often have wonderful LinkedIn profiles, went to Ivy League universities, have excellent salaries. They work in marketing, finance, etc. Still, at the end of the day, if you give them a beer or two, they’ll admit that their job is perfectly useless. If we actually rewarded people for the value of the work they do, I think that many bankers would earn a negative salary while many nurses and teachers will be millionaires.

And then dovetailing healthcare into this pretty wide-ranging discussion on automation, universal basic income, and the depressing way we value/pay people who are essentially a drain on the system (not through welfare but through wealth extraction):

Economists talk about how it’s some kind of problem that government is not efficient enough compared to the private sector, but I think that’s actually the point. The point of the future is that we can have a huge amount of inefficiency because that’s what makes life meaningful. Good care is inefficient. You actually have to talk some to someone to have the meaningful relationship. If you want to make health care more efficient, you usually destroy it.

What if healthcare didn’t have to be an industry anymore? It’s really a mind-blasting thought.

2 Comments

  1. The whole book, Utopia for Realists, was really fantastic in my opinion. It’s a well-written dream for a future where people work 15 hours a week (and are actually more productive because they aren’t exhausted…something residency programs should consider, perhaps?), everyone gets free money just for existing, and all countries have open borders. He explains all of the ideas and potential impacts very clearly and with meticulous citation – very mind-opening kind of read. :)

    Reply
    • I especially love the idea of needing to visualize a utopian idea as a means of framing current decision-making. It’s just more pleasant than assuming everything and everyone is terrible and is only getting worse.

      It’s fascinating to think on how Keynes arrived at his 15-hour-workweek prediction and how it got derailed at the end of the 20th century: how capital beat out labor and the consumer economy’s incredible ability to create bullshit jobs.

      Reply

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