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How Much is Enough?: Money and the Good Life [Hardcover]

Robert Skidelsky , Edward Skidelsky
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
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Book Description

28 Jun 2012

In recent years, economic growth has been regarded as a self-evident good, with political debate focussed on the best means to achieve it. But there are now signs that this shared assumption is weakening. Anger at 'greedy' bankers and their 'obscene' bonuses has given way to a deeper dissatisfaction with an economic system geared overwhelmingly to the accumulation of wealth. Huge income disparities and an ever-growing gap between the richest and the rest has brought us to one of those rare moments when the underlying assumptions of society, are changing.

In How Much is Enough? Robert and Edward Skidelsky argue that wealth is not an end in itself but a means to the achievement and maintenance of a 'good life', and that our economy should be organised to reflect this fact. The book includes a definition of the 'good life', discusses the relevance of 'Happiness Studies' and the environmental impact of our ever-growing need to consume. In doing so, it offers an escape from the trap of excessive specialization and a way to reinvigorate the idea of economics as a 'moral science'. It concludes by offering a radical new model for income redistribution - and a consideration of what human beings might really want from their lives.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane (28 Jun 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846144485
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846144486
  • Product Dimensions: 21.8 x 14.2 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 75,814 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

Robert Skidelsky is Emeritus Professor of Political Economy at the University of Warwick. His three volume biography of John Maynard Keynes (1983, 1992, 2000) received numerous prizes, including the Lionel Gelber Prize for International Relations and the Council on Foreign Relations Prize for International Relations. ('This three-volume life of the British economist should be given a Nobel Prize for History if there was such a thing' - Norman Stone.) He was made a life peer in 1991, and aFellow of the British Academy in 1994. Edward Skidelsky is a lecturer in the Philosophy Department of the University of Exeter. He contributes regularly to the New Statesman, Telegraph, Spectator and Prospect. His previous books include The Conditions of Goodness and Ernst Cassirer: The Last Philosopher of Culture.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
56 of 59 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enough is Enough 1 July 2012
By Diziet TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
John Maynard Keynes believed that there would come a time when capitalism would be able to provide for all our needs. When that time was reached, there would be no further reason for growth. Capitalism was a necessary but temporary evil - 'a transitional stage, a means to an end, the end being the good life' (P17). Unfortunately, as we have seen, this 'end' has actually been the triumph of an aggressive and consumerist capitalism that has swept all before it, capturing us in a seemingly endless spiral, not of 'needs' but 'wants'. We are caught in an 'insatiability trap' and 'the good life' appears to be receding into dreams and sitcoms.

This book tries to explain just how this all came about. And, after exploring the roots of what more and more people are recognizing as our global dilemma, attempts to put forward some solutions and new ways to define and move towards this 'good life'.

The book starts with Keynes. Keynes believed that the average number of hours that people worked would slowly diminish as technology became more and more efficient. In reality what we have seen is instead of four people being employed for ten hours a week, one person works for forty hours, leaving three people unemployed. At the same time, capitalism has increasingly 'monetized' and commodified everything it can, as Michael Sandel, amongst many others, has shown. Monetizing things changes how they are valued - not only do they become comparable in money terms, but their very nature is altered. For example: '[e] increasingly seen not as a preparation for the good life but as a mean to increase the value of 'human capital''.

The result of this depressing utilitarianism is all around us.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
This is a very readable account of how, despite getting much richer since Keynes wrote his essay 'Economic possibilities for our grandchildren', we haven't had the concomitant drop in working hours Keynes forecast. The authors mine a rich stream of thought which considers capitalism a 'Faustian pact' with unseemly motives for the production of wealth. How this pact has got out of hand, with GDP growth changing from a means to bringing about the good life to the end pursued by government policy is the first argument of the book.

The authors also argue - following Aristotle, and echoing Michael Sandel in his book Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do? - that the draining of a moral and ethical discourse from public discussion of policy has merely obscured, rather than removed, the ethical stance behind political decisions. This is a welcome point, and along with their discussion of the 'Faustian pact' forms the most successful passage of the book.

So far, so good - but unfortunately the rest of the book is on shakier ground. The authors outline their own vision for 'the good life', which I felt was too subjective to be a programme with a real chance of being adopted by any mainstream political party. They make some valid criticisms of it, but nevertheless I feel the capabilities approach (developed by Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum) remains a much better guide for policy than their assertion that the good life be promoted by government.

Two chapters deal in turn with the new happiness economics promoted by Richard Layard and the green/sustainable movement. They convincingly argue that neither happiness or sustainability should become the ultimate policy goal to replace GDP.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Timely, ambitious and thought-provoking 8 Jan 2013
By Jeremy Bevan TOP 500 REVIEWER
This is a timely, ambitious and thought-provoking book that attempts to resurrect a notion of the `good life' as the basis for a saner vision of how societies should function than that provided by the current `standard model' of growth-obsessed, market-dominated neoliberalism. Part economic treatise and part philosophical discourse, it draws on sources as diverse as Aristotle, eastern sages and Catholic social teaching to try and refashion economics as a `moral science'. It aims to show how the language of virtue and the common good, together with a consensus around an agreed range of `basic goods' (like health, security and so on), might help recreate a climate in which polices that ask what work, money and consumption are actually for can once again be aired.

I particularly enjoyed the authors' analysis of how the Rawlsian idea of the liberal state's neutrality vis-à-vis human desires plays into the hands of the market, which (since Mandeville and Adam Smith) regards us all as merely self-interested actors. But the Skidelskys wish to discuss not our desires - which (they contend, from analysis of a mass of evidence) seem, along with an illusory happiness, to be ever-receding as our Faustian bargain with the promise of endless growth starts to unravel. Rather, they focus on what it might be appropriate to desire; and how we might get off the growth treadmill so we can really start living life to the full. A basic income, steeply graduated purchase taxes and tax measures to curb advertising are among their proposals.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Very interesting read
Published 5 days ago by BW
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good.
Still reading this. There is so much more background than I thought. The author has considered more aspects than I imagined and it gives cause for thought.
Published 3 months ago by Karen Butler
4.0 out of 5 stars I really appreciated this book but cautious about recommending it to...
I really appreciated this book but I would be cautious about recommending it to others. It fitted well with other books I had read in the past few years. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Peter
2.0 out of 5 stars Disjointed and too radical in places.
The basic premise of this book is correct, that we are all engaged in a zero-sum pursuit of wealth and that acquiring wealth does not necessarily make us any happier. Read more
Published 9 months ago by M. Reid

4.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful
A thoughtful investigation of what constitutes the good life. It's a welcome change to economics based on the market alone.
Published 16 months ago by Pat
1.0 out of 5 stars from the ivory tower
I had heard high praises of this book on the radio and in the printed press - and was rather disappointed. Read more
Published 16 months ago by C. Osmer
3.0 out of 5 stars 3 Stars
This book takes a critical look at common economic concepts such as GDP. I enjoyed its questioning of the conventional wisdom, but I was not completely convinced by the... Read more
Published 18 months ago by GrahamM
5.0 out of 5 stars A book you need to read - but give yourself time.
A wonderful book - but I found it a heavy read. Worth the effort though; it has certainly made me think!
Published 19 months ago by Scots121
1.0 out of 5 stars How Much is Enough
I was quite enjoying this book and trying to take an interest in its erratic progress until Chapter 5; 'Limits to growth:Natural or moral? Read more
Published 20 months ago by superpeasant
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