Rutger Bregman: Poverty Isn’t a Lack of Character; It’s a Lack of Cash (Transcript)

Now, don’t get me wrong — I’m not talking about the teachers and the garbagemen and the care workers here. If they stopped working, we’d be in trouble. I’m talking about all those well-paid professionals with excellent résumés who earn their money doing strategic transactor peer-to-peer meetings while brainstorming the value add-on of disruptive co-creation in the network society. Or something like that.

Just imagine again how much talent we’re wasting, simply because we tell our kids they’ll have to “earn a living”. Or think of what a math whiz working at Facebook lamented a few years ago: “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads.”

I’m a historian. And if history teaches us anything, it is that things could be different. There is nothing inevitable about the way we structured our society and economy right now. Ideas can and do change the world. And I think that especially in the past few years, it has become abundantly clear that we cannot stick to the status quo — that we need new ideas. I know that many of you may feel pessimistic about a future of rising inequality, xenophobia and climate change.

But it’s not enough to know what we’re against. We also need to be for something Martin Luther King didn’t say, “I have a nightmare”. He had a dream.

So here’s my dream: I believe in a future where the value of your work is not determined by the size of your paycheck, but by the amount of happiness you spread and the amount of meaning you give. I believe in a future where the point of education is not to prepare you for another useless job but for a life well-lived. I believe in a future where an existence without poverty is not a privilege but a right we all deserve.

So here we are. Here we are. We’ve got the research, we’ve got the evidence and we’ve got the means. Now, more than 500 years after Thomas More first wrote about a basic income, and 100 years after George Orwell discovered the true nature of poverty, we all need to change our worldview, because poverty is not a lack of character. Poverty is a lack of cash.

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Thank you.

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