Authors: Robert Skidelsky & Edward Skidelsky
An interesting question that is never asked in our modern society. Because surely everyone wants more? “How much is Enough?” begins by looking back at how we set off on this road to growth, and how the economy has provided real progress to remove the risk of extreme poverty. In the developed world, we have succeeded. Crops fail and droughts occur, leading to famines for the developing world, but these no longer impact us. We can buy our way out of hunger. We have support structures that protect us from pestilence and disease. What we are now facing is relative poverty, one person’s wealth against another. We should be celebrating this interim success, by helping those who haven’t reached this level yet. But along the way, we forgot where we were aiming for. We are all still climbing upwards, but towards what? Economic growth and GDP are the only measures that politicians believe we are interested in, and so we continue without an end. Written in 2012 after several years of economic depression, the authors review Keynes’ attempt to foresee the future of work and poverty as he saw it from the depths of the 1930s recession. Keynes saw the use of capitalism as a necessary evil in order to reach the point when we would get the results we were after. When we reached this point of abundance for all, when our ‘needs’ were met, we would reduce our working hours accordingly. Greater mechanization would mean less work would be required to create products, and so we would have more time for leisure, and life. Whilst Keynes’ predicted many drivers correctly over time, he underestimated the insatiable growth of ‘desires’ to replace our dwindling list of ‘needs’. The twentieth century saw the introduction of advertising to teach consumers to buy because of our desires, rather than our needs. We no longer had natural or moral limits to our greed. (You might really like eating cheesecake, but there is still a natural limit to consumption. With greed for money, this limit doesn’t exist.) Greed and competitive consumption were encouraged, and the concept of avarice, as one of the seven deadly sins was buried. Conspicuous consumption had become a requirement for modern living, rather than an embarrassment. The chapters that follow aim to determine what the universal understanding of ‘The Good Life’ is, reviewing a variety of cultures across the globe to identify which are the universally accepted elements. The authors’ thoughts solidify on seven ‘basic goods’ required for a good life: health; security; respect; personality; harmony with nature; friendship; and leisure. Happiness is not included, but the reasoning for disregarding this is succinctly explained within its own chapter. The final chapter details how our political system could divert our aimlessly-wandering battleship of a society towards a purposeful goal. The recommendations include introducing a Tobin Tax, introducing a basic income, and reducing the negative impacts that advertising can have on our lifestyle choices. The purpose of the book is to encourage thought about where we want to be heading in the long-term as a society and as a global population. The book, which spends a long time discussing historical ethics, can’t exactly be described as a thrilling page-turner. However, I would recommend this book in order to understand how to apply this to your own life and political discussions. What counts as leisure in your own mind? ‘Leisure time’ is a gift. The elite of the past learned how to use their leisure time for meaningful activity, which could now be available to all. We have the freedom to enjoy our lives thanks to the progress made through capitalism. Money must be returned to its true position in life: It is a means to an end, and not the end itself. But how do we go about coveting ‘the good life’ instead of the continual one-upmanship taught to us by our consumption-led economy? Through education, and reading more books like this… For a different viewpoint, the Guardian’s review is worth a look.