Going against the political tide

Book cove: Utopia for RealistsUtopia For Realists, And How We Can Get There
by Rutger Bregman
Bloomsbury, £16.99
(Buy on Amazon)

Most Western governments see reducing immigration and cutting public spending as priorities. So Dutch historian Rutger Bregman is going against the political tide with his two main proposals: a universal basic income that would be given to people whether they were in work or not, and an abolition of border controls.

Bregman argues that a basic income would cut bureaucracy, reduce poverty and give poor people greater autonomy. Contrary to what you might expect, experiments conducted in the US in the 1960s have suggested that a basic income would have little impact on people’s work habits. What it would do is give workers, especially those who are unskilled or semi-skilled, more power in the labour market, at a time when automation and computing power threatens to reduce the number of jobs and erode wages.

On immigration, he points out that the difference in living standards between countries is far greater than the inequality within countries and even the current paltry levels of development aid are unpopular and often wasted. So it makes more sense to bring people to the West, rather than to try and raise productivity and incomes in developing countries. Again, he puts forward studies showing that many of the problems associated with immigration have been greatly exaggerated.

Bregman argues his case well, writing in an accessible, light-hearted style. However, he pushes his arguments too hard and ignores conflicting evidence. The result is a provocative book, but it’s hardly the last word on the subject.