March 13 Bangkok Stammtisch: Owen Jones meets Rutger Bregman

Tonight’s the night (March 13, 2017) for the monthly Bangkok Stammtisch for RSA members and friends. As part of our meetup, we’re planning to discuss Owen Jones’ interview of Rutger Bregman. I’ve outlined the discussion below as a conversation starter. If you’re in Bangkok, and this is of interest, come join us at the Queen Vic pub at 6pm.

Here’s an audio-only version of the talk.

  • Utopianism is a dangerous idea
  • The left knows what it’s against (everything), but it hasn’t done a good job of articulating new ideas of what it’s for in recent years
  • People think everything is going to pot, but historically speaking, we’re living in good times.
  • Basic Incomes are an exciting idea
    • Asked what they’d do with a Basic Income, people tend to say they’d pursue their passion project, but they fear others would loaf.
    • In practice (the Canadian Mincome project), that didn’t happen.  And there were additional benefits around things like education and crime
    • Nixon (NIXON!) nearly passed a basic income, but the Democrats in the senate killed it because they wanted it to be bigger
    • Basic income could give more stability to lives that are becoming ever more precarious
  • We forget that poverty is hugely expensive (crime, healthcare)
  • We underestimate capitalism’s ability to create BS jobs
    • People with “great jobs” often admit to Rutger that their job is useless
      • Examples:
        • Big cities can go about a week without garbage men
        • Bankers went on strike once to no effect
  • Keynes predicted a 15-hour week. What happened?
    • In the 1960s and 1970s the work week was shrinking, but this reversed in the 1980s
    • Since then, a huge amount of useless jobs have been created (David Graeber’s BS jobs theory

    • As long as we believe work is necessary to “earn” a living, we’ll continue to force people into useless jobs
    • If we keep going down the same path, eventually all jobs will be useless
    • Massive amounts of valuable work isn’t paid for
    • Stress is a big problem. People who work long hours are not more productive. We’ve known that since the time of Henry Ford.
    • The cost of not doing so needs to be measured in terms of things like higher health care spending, and higher stress.
  • $175B (1/4 of the US military budget) could be redirected to directly end poverty in the US. That’s an investment and needs to be positioned as such.
  • Bad choices are a big problem for the poor. Poverty is overwhelming. It destroys your ability to think. (Indian farmers scored 40 points lower on average while in more precarious circumstances before their harvest, as opposed to after their harvest). “Anyone would make dumb decisions in the same situation…. Get people above the poverty line and you’ll not only get an explosion of ambition and energy, but people will also be a lot smarter.”
  • Global inequality is huge. It’s much larger than national inequality. The best tool to fight it is immigration.
  • The Right tends to talk in stories. The Left tends to talk in facts and statistics.
  • You could start to position progressive narratives in terms of nationalism, but instead of being inward looking, it should be in positive, outward looking terms
    • Example: We’re going to be the first country that’s sustainable.”
  • Borders are the biggest source of injustice/discrimination of our time.
    • The avg American makes 3x the avg Bolivion & 8.5x the avg Nigerian with the same set of skills and experience.
  • The populist Right develops consistent narratives that push the boundaries of what’s acceptable. In doing so, they slowly shift ideas that are unacceptable into the mainstream.
  • Geert Wilders. Ugh.
  • We’re still living in a technocracy.
  • Can you see echoes of the 1930s?
    • Yes, but we’re not as accustomed to violence as they had become then
    • International institutions are much stronger now
    • Trump is an incredible narcissist
    • We should be really worried if we see an escalation of violence
  • There’s nothing natural about the way we structure our economies. Everything can be changed.