Why not dream of Utopia?

One way to think of Left Right Forward’s mission is that it’s to revive and update the dream of a practical utopia. Not long ago, respectable people all over the world believed that building utopia was a practical and realistic project. In the 1800’s, people were still in awe of the power of science and engineering. It was natural to think that its newfound magic should allow humanity to solve virtually of its practical problems — for example, to eliminate scarcity and therefore poverty.

Political movements emerged all over the world seeking to make a practical utopia reality. Many European movements sent followers into the North American west to launch prototypes, and for a while dotted the landscape with thousands of industrious utopian communities. Others formed political parties, whose philosophies ranged from radical anarchism and communism to genteel legal reformism.

Others wrote books and organized academic societies designed to capture the public imagination. In the United States, the most notable of these was Edward Bellamy, the author of the 1887 novel Looking Backward, set in a practical utopia in 2001. The book was the best selling novel in America for the remainder of the century, and has been counted as one of the most influential books in American history by a number of major historians. Local clubs devoted to making Bellamy’s vision a reality rose up in almost every community.

In the late 1800’s, even in rich countries, many well-educated workers and professionals still often found themselves stuck in abject poverty. There simply wasn’t enough to go around — at least not with the way the economy was structured. Plus, financial crises were very common, ferociously shrinking the economy once a decade or more. Therefore, even among highly educated reform-minded people, there was a very strong focus on how to build up and reorganize the country’s economy. The economic reform movement was intertwined with powerful movements for women’s rights, racial justice and anti-colonialism.

In other words, well-educated professional class people found it much easier back then than today to understand and prioritize the economic problems of their society, because they experienced those problems much more painfully themselves.

Today many educated people and professionals are struggling just as much as ever, but the struggle tends to be about affordability of education, healthcare or housing. From their personal experience, well-educated professionals tend to understand economic problems as problems of distribution and fairness. That’s why the progressive movement  around the world tends today to focus taxing the rich to increase government spending on education, healthcare, housing and other services but not on building up the productive capacity of the economy. In fact, out of concern for the environment, there is a feeling among well-educated people globally that, if anything, we have too much production, not too little.

Of course, production must be transformed to become fully non-polluting, reuse-based and sustainable (a project that will create many great jobs and prosperity for hundreds of millions of people). But it’s a huge problem that the professional class has lost its understanding that our economy is not producing enough prosperity to go around for everyone.

Billions of people around the world still don’t have the basics of a comfortable, healthy life — things like uncontaminated water, warm and dry housing, healthcare, medicine, and transportation. That is all stuff that our economy isn’t producing, and needs to produce if we’re to eliminate poverty and get everyone living in prosperity.

Even in America, the bottom 50% of income earners don’t make enough to eat healthy, rent a decent apartment or maintain their homes, maintain a car that will get them to work reliably and therefore to hold a stable job. That kind of inequality can’t be solved by taxing the rich and redistributing numbers in bank accounts.

Environmentalists are absolutely correct that continuing on our current slow and destructive path of economic growth is an existential threat to humanity. But the answer isn’t to simply slow things down even more. That still leaves us destroying the planet, and billions in poverty.

This is why it’s so important to revive the dream of a practical utopia. Only by thinking about a comprehensive transformation of the whole world economy can we find a solution that expands production of the goods and infrastructure that people need to live comfortably while protecting the planet as well as our political institutions and our freedom.

Left Right Forward defines the practical utopia as a world where everyone has access not just to what they need to live, but to a prosperous, fulfilling and sustainable living that they control. Our mission is to revive that dream, among both working class people and professional class people (who may have a harder time getting it), and to offer practical plans that societies and governments can follow to make the practical utopia a reality.

Many obstacles stand in the way of that future becoming reality. But perhaps the biggest is that we’ve forgotten how to even dream of a better future. For the first time in our history as a species, a practical utopia is a mere political and engineering problem to solve. Ironically, also for the first time in our history, we have officially stopped dreaming that a prosperous, fulfilling life is possible for everyone.

It’s urgent that we get out of this funk immediately and to make a big dream of a practical utopia the background to all of our short-term struggles and movements, just as it used to be. Once we do, we’ll find that our movements become stronger because people see more to fight for. And we’ll be able to seize opportunities and crises that come up when our societies will have the chance to make big changes. If we’re not there with our vision of a radically better future, then the people with plans for a radically worse future will prevail.

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