Tuesday, January 23, 2018

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Quotes I liked: Utopia for Realists, Rutger Bregman

1. Whether you look at the incidents of depression, burnout, drug abuse, high dropout rates, obesity, unhappy childhoods, low election turnout or social and political distrusts, the evidence points to the same culprit every time - inequality. But hold on -- what should it matter if some people are filthy rich if even those who are very poor are better off than the kings of centuries ago? A lot. Because it’s all about relative poverty. However wealthy a country gets, inequality always rains on the parade. Being poor in a rich country is a whole different story to being poor a couple centuries ago, when almost everybody, everywhere was a pauper. 
Take bullying. Countries with big disparities in wealth also have more bullying behavior because there are bigger status differences. (...) the psychosocial consequences are such that people living in unequal societies spend more time worrying about how others see them. This undercuts the quality of relationships, manifested in a distrust of strangers and status anxiety, for example. The resulting stress, in turn, is a major determinant of illness and chronic health problems. But shouldn’t we be more concerned with equal opportunities than with equal wealth? The fact is that they both matter. These two forms of inequality are inextricable. Just look at the global rankings -- when inequality goes up, social mobility goes down. 
There’s almost no country on earth where the American dream is less likely than come true than in the US of A. Anybody eager to work their way out from rags to riches is better off trying their luck in Sweden, where people born into poverty can still hold out hope of a brighter future. 

2. Imagine this: A welfare mother has her income cut because she hasn’t developed sufficient job skills. The government saves a couple thousand bucks but the hidden costs of children who will consequently grow up poor, eat poor food, get poor grades at school, and be more likely to have a run-in with the law are many times greater. 
In fact, conservative criticism of the old nanny state hits the nail on the head. The current tangle of red tape keeps people trapped in poverty, it actually produces dependence. 
Whereas employees are expected to demonstrate their strengths, social services expect claimants to prove over and over that an illness is sufficiently debilitating and that chances at getting higher are sufficiently slim.

3. Only Denmark has ever tried to quantify the value of breastfeeding in its GDP. In the US, the production of breastmilk has been estimated at an incredible 110 billion/year (!). About the size of China’s military budget. The GDP also does a poor job of calculating advances in knowledge. (...) If you were the GDP, your ideal citizen would be a drug addict who has cancer, goes through a divorce and pops fistfuls of Prozac and goes bezerk on Black Friday. Mental illness, pollution, crime - in terms of the GDP - the more, the better. That’s also why one of the countries with the highest per capita GDPs, the United States, also leads in social problems. By the standard of the GDP, the worst families in America are those that actually function as families, that cook their own meals, take walks after dinner, and talk together, instead of just farming the kids out to the commercial culture. 
We live in a world where the more vital your occupation - cleaning, nursing, teaching - the lower you rate in the GDP. 

4. In overworked countries like Japan or the United States, people watch an absurd amount of television -- up to 5 hours a day in the US, WHICH ADDS UP TO 9 YEARS IN A LIFETIME. American children spend half more time in front of the TV as they do at school. True leisure, however, is neither a luxury nor a vice. It is as vital to our brains as vitamin C is to our bodies. There’s not a person in the world who on their deathbed thinks ‘had I only put in a few more hours at the office…’ or ‘sat in front of the Tube some more’. 

5. Bullshit jobs. The economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that we’d all be working just 15 hours a week by 2030. That our prosperity would shoot through the roof and we’d exchange a sizeable chunk of our wealth for leisure time. In reality, that’s not at all what has happened. We’re plenty more prosperous, but we’re not exactly swimming in a sea of free time -- quite the reverse. We’re all working harder than ever. 
In the previous chapter, I described how we sacrificed our free time on the altar of consumerism. Keynes certainly didn’t see that coming. But there’s still one puzzle piece that still doesn’t fit. Most people play no part in the production of iPhone cases, in their panoply of colors, exotic shampoos containing botanical extracts, or mocker cookie crumble frappuccinos. Our addiction to consumption is enabled mostly by robots and third-world wage slaves. And although agricultural and manufacturing production capacity have grown exponentially over the past decades, employment in these industries has dropped. So is it really true that our overworked lifestyle all comes down to out of control consumerism?
David Graeber wrote a fascinating piece that pinned the blame not on the stuff we buy but on the work we do. It’s titled aptly ‘on the phenomenon of bullshit jobs’. In Graber’s analysis, innumerable people spend their entire working life doing jobs they consider to be pointless. Jobs like telemarketer, HR manager, social media strategist, PR advisor, and a whole host of administrative positions at hospitals, universities and government offices. Bullshit jobs, Graeber calls them. They’re the jobs that even the people doing them admit are, in essence, superfluous. 

6. A mere 62 people are richer than 3.5 billion people in the world. (!!!)

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