How Much is Enough? Money and the Good Life by Robert Skidelsky and Edward Skidelsky

I loved this book! It is written by a father and son team and asks why the prediction of John Maynard Keynes, in his essay Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren, published in 1930, never came to pass. He predicted that increases in productivity and economic efficiency would lead to the same amount of output being achieved with much less labour, leading in turn to more leisure for most people. But he based his prediction on the idea that people only needed enought to enable them to live ‘wisely, agreeably and well’. In other words, to live the ‘good life’.

Drawing on a wide range of philosophy, economics and literature, the authors suggest that a misplaced belief in the need for continued economic growth and a misunderstanding of the nature of human satiety have trapped us in societies where we have lost sight of what the good life is, and what is necessary to secure it and enjoy it.

It is a beguiling analysis, that probably appeals to people (I am exhibit A of this group) who don’t accept complete moral relativism and are looking for a systematic way of assessing and understanding what makes a ‘good life’.

Central to their concept of the good life is the idea that leisure is not a waste of time but has intrinsic value and purpose. A ‘good’ leisure is spent in purposeful but enjoyable activity. So sitting in front of the telly is not purposeful, as it doesn’t contribute to the achievement of other aspects of the good life – respect, health, security, personality, harmony with nature and friendship (all of these are defined in common sense ways). But playing football in the park is, because it promotes friendship and health.

If I was elected to public office of some kind, I think I could do a lot worse than take their proposals and put them into effect. It is self evident, surely, that the pursuit of ever-increasing consumption or economic efficiency for its own sake is a fool’s errand. This alternative set of propositions is well worth taking seriously.


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