Money at 30: “Utopia for Realists” Book Review
Sometimes it seems that a personality goes from being nowhere on my radar to appearing everywhere I turn. One might assume this to be a case of the subconscious becoming conscious… but it’s more likely to be a symptom of a book promotion cycle. That’s the case with Dutch author Rutger Bregman, who I’ve seen mentioned across social media and podcasts as of late. While Bregman recently released a new book titled Humankind: A Hopeful History, I actually just purchased his 2017 work Utopia for Realists: How We Can Build the Ideal World. What I found was an enlightening and thought-provoking read that I honestly couldn’t put down.
Before I jump into the meat of my review, I should probably explain what led me to this title. Although, on the surface, Utopia for Realists might not seem terribly related to personal finance, the book caught my attention mainly because of my interest in universal basic income (UBI). As it turns out, Bregman is quite the expert on the topic. In fact, it was apparently a TED Talk of Bregman’s that first introduced former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang to the concept (with Yang going on to make UBI the cornerstone of his campaign).
Given that background, it’s no surprise that I was excited to read the chapters dedicated to UBI and related ideas. Having read both the aforementioned Yang’s book as well as Give People Money by Annie Lowrey, I was already fairly familiar with many of the arguments and studies cited by Bregman, Nevertheless, there was still much to learn — including an interesting dive into the politics that prevented Richard Nixon’s UBI-esque proposal from being enacted in the 1970s. These bits of context coupled with some compelling arguments make it easy to see why the concept has gained some significant tractions in recent years.
Of course, the book goes well beyond UBI. For example, Bregman ponders why the standard workweek hasn’t changed in decades. Sure, the thought of a 15-hour workweek may be a reality for those in FIRE movement who have leveraged the power of passive income, but what about the rest of the world’s workers? Elsewhere, the author looks at why open borders could actually make the entire world more wealthy. Equally as interesting are segments of the book that look at how people go about changing their minds instead or, more often than not, digging into their pre-held beliefs. To that point, Bergman acknowledges his own biases just in case they weren’t obvious.
Speaking of obvious, if it wasn’t already clear, I found this book to be absolutely fascinating and captivating. Also notable is that, since it’s publication, some of Bregman’s ideas (namely UBI) have really gained steam — even more so in light of the current pandemic. Of course interest in some of his other proposals, such as those involving open borders, have likely taken a step back for the same reason.
Ultimately, while I don’t necessarily agree with Bergman 100% of the time, I found myself being very receptive to his suggestions and discussions. Personally, I also found the topics at hand to be refreshing in that they didn’t fit into our binary American political positions. Instead, they’re an entirely different breed. To that point, your average reader would be hard-pressed to pin down Bergman’s politics — or at least put in in a red or blue box.
Although my interest in UBI was what brought me to Utopia for Realists: How We Can Build the Ideal World, Bregman’s bold ideas and snappy writing were what kept me glued to the book; devouring it over the course of a weekend. What’s more, ever since closing the back cover, I’ve continued to think about these topics frequently, including how they might be able to ease some of the issues we currently face. I really can’t think of a better endorsement for this book so I’ll just conclude by saying, if you’re open to what may sound insane but might just get you questioning how impossible it would actually be, then I’d definitely recommend checking Utopia for Realists out for yourself.
Also published on Medium.