Things aren’t as bad as they seem, if you just take a look at history — and that’s what historian Rutger Bregman does in his book, Utopia for Realists.
The book, which has become an international best seller, explores our current place in history. It looks at levels of poverty, famine, wealth, homelessness and unemployment and uses history to evaluate how far we’ve come. Right now we are living in the utopia which was dreamed of in the Middle Ages.
“I think that the big problem of today isn’t so much that we don’t have it good, but that we have no vision of where we want to go next.”
Bregman uses history to take aim at many of the world’s current welfare systems that simply don’t work. Laying blame and distrusting people in poverty by ways of restricted and difficult support systems only perpetuates the issue, and history shows that.
“What history can show us is that the way we have structured our society and our economy right now is not natural. We are living in incredibly rich countries and there are still millions of people living in poverty, when it doesn’t have to be that way. It can be different. That’s why I try to use history to throw open the windows and show to people that we can do things differently. People have tried different things in the past that have worked, and we can do that again.”
These ‘things’ Bregman refers to that have been trialled in the past is the distribution of a free basic income. Free money for everyone — a modest amount but enough to lift those living in poverty out of it and enough to help everyone else do more with their lives. You don’t have to work for it, you don’t have to answer for it and you don’t have to be poor or homeless — everyone gets it. It’s a revolutionary idea that’s immediately met with doubts. But history shows it works.
“The first thing that people think is that free money will make people lazy. If we gave everyone an unconditional basic income then they will probably stop working. Then I always ask them what would they do with a free basic income, and about 99 percent of people will say ‘oh, well I wouldn’t stop working, I have dreams and ambitions, but it’s the other people you’d have to worry about’.”