Saturday 12 August 2017 9:00pm
'Real Change Starts with New Ideas' says Dutch Historian Rutger Bregman
The Dutch historian Rutger Bregman has warned that the proportion of what he calls “bullshit jobs” could keep on rising if the definition of “work” is not updated.
Appearing at the Book Festival today, the bestselling author of Utopia for Realists: And How We Can Get There cautioned against predictions that “robots will take all our jobs” through increased mechanisation.
“Something different is happening here,” the 31-year-old writer told a sell-out crowd. “What people in Silicon Valley but [also] around the globe underestimate is capitalism’s extraordinary ability to come up with new bullshit jobs, so this can go on for years and years.
“Now it’s 30, maybe 40 per cent of all jobs [that] are bullshit, [but] if we don’t update our world view, if we do not update our definition of work, it could be 50 per cent in the future, it could be 70 per cent, it could be 100 per cent.
“At some point in the future we may all be pretending to work, sending emails to each other, browsing Facebook or whatever, and all saying ‘yeah, that was a hard day’s work’. It could go on for years.”
Bregman spoke at length about his book’s idea of a Universal Basic Income (UBI), a monthly grant to cover every citizen’s essential needs – food, shelter, education – “an unconditional floor so that poverty doesn’t really exist anymore”.
Recalling that Utopia for Realists – which also argues for open borders and a 15-hour working week – initially failed to attract much “national” attention in the Netherlands, at a “local level” people began to say “this is interesting, we can do something with this”, with around 20 cities wanting to experiment with a UBI.
And now, added Bregman, “there are national politicians and national journalists calling me and saying ‘basic income? Can you tell [us] a little bit about that? Can I get votes with that?”
“Real change starts with new ideas,” he continued, “and new ideas often start on the fringes of society, in places like this [the Book Festival], where people come together and talk about those new ideas. It’s only at the end of the line the politicians come in.”
And asked about possible UBI trials in Glasgow and Edinburgh, Bregman said: “There is no such thing as the basic income, there are many, many, versions of it. What we could do is to step-by-step make our current policies, our current systems of social security, look a little bit more like UBI – make them more UBI-ish.
“So you could start with the homeless, you could start with the unemployed, you could do a lot of different experiments – that’s what I would argue for – to collect as much knowledge as possible, and also be curious, to learn along the way. So if something doesn’t work, change your mind.”
Bregman also said those interested in UBI ought to be “wary” that it does not “get hijacked by people who just want to replace the welfare state with a very small cash transfer.”