56 of 58 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enough is Enough
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...
Published 17 months ago by Diziet
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A few gaps in an otherwise compelling argument
To be clear what this book is not, it is not a 'self-help' book setting out a 10 point plan for a happier life. In fact the authors in their wide ranging and fascinating discussions make clear that pursuit of happiness in and of itself is a pointless and self defeating exercise. Instead the book looks at potential political solutions to the current mess we seem to have...
Published 17 months ago by Jack
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56 of 58 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enough is Enough,
This review is from: How Much is Enough?: Money and the Good Life (Hardcover)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]ducation...is 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. Not just a growing number of people unemployed, but also a growing number of people forced down into what Guy Standing refers to as 'The Precariat', semi- and temporarily employed, while the gulf between the poorest and richest is now wider than it was in the so-called 'gilded age'.
What is it in the nature of capitalism that makes it at the same time so productive and yet so destructive? The authors believe that capitalism was 'founded on a Faustian pact'. (P68) Whereas previously usury and avarice were considered evils (Croesus, Midas), it was agreed that these sins were acceptable for the time being in order to release the productive powers of capitalism, on the understanding that once having 'lifted humanity out of poverty', the evils would be banished. But:
'Experience has taught us that material wants know no natural bounds, that they will expand without end unless we consciously restrain them. Capitalism rests precisely on this endless expansion of wants. That is why, for all its success, it remains so unloved. It has given us wealth beyond measure, but has taken away the chief benefit of wealth: the consciousness of having enough.' (P69)
Capitalism has overturned the meaning of greed - it is now 'good'.
It turns out that capitalism has overturned the meaning of the word 'happiness' too. The authors in 'A Very Brief History of Happiness' (P97) show how the old idea of a 'happy life' or a 'happy people' has gradually changed from an external, social concept to a highly individual and internal state. To make people happy then does not necessarily require changes to society but to the individuals. Along with this individualisation comes a sense of paternalist liberalism - not yet perhaps handing out the 'soma' but not very far off.
So what are the limits (if any) to growth? The authors consider both natural and moral aspects of this question, in particular considering the various 'green' approaches. In 'The Ethical Roots of Environmentalism' (P132) they trace a fascinating, if idiosyncratic, path from romanticism through Heidegger and then to Adorno and Horkheimer, Marcuse and the modern day green movements. They suggest that:
'...mainstream environmentalism has continued to frame its case in the utilitarian language of sustainability, though its profounder influences remain ethical, aesthetic or even religious. This has led to a tension in the movement between so-called 'deep' and 'shallow' ecologists, the former valuing nature as an end in itself, the latter valuing it as an instrument of human purposes.' (P134)
The point the authors wish to make is that we really cannot base a critique of capitalism on either 'deep' or 'shallow' environmentalism. 'Nature is neither raw material to use as we please nor a strange god demanding sacrifice...[but]...the mute bearer of the same life that has come to consciousness in us.' (P 144) In that sense, the 'good life' must by definition be bound up with a harmonious relationship with nature as with ourselves.
So what is the 'good life'? The authors try to define it by identifying 'The Basic Goods' (P150), the indispensables. By goods, of course, is not meant necessarily material goods but the aspects of life that go to make a happy state, a state of happiness and a life well lived.
And finally they look to 'Exits from the Rat Race' (P180). It is clear that there really is no existent political party that has 'the good life' (in the sense the authors mean) as their goal. Their proposals are both varied and specific. One is the provision of a 'basic income' (this is a central demand of Guy Standing's too). Another is 'Reducing the Pressure to Consume' (P202), including reducing the impact and all-pervasiveness of advertising. Yes another is a temporary halt to globalisation. They bluntly point out that '[n]o country has become rich under a free-trade regime.' (P214) Underlying all this is a belief that we need to re-examine just what wealth is for. And here they look for inspiration to Catholicism and to the 'religious impulse' more generally. Materialist philosophies have failed, they believe. Politics has failed. And economics has failed. One way or another we need to re-imagine the 'collective good life'.
The authors' views clearly coincide with those of Jeffrey Sachs - searching for an Aristotelian 'middle way' - and of Michael Sandel - there really are things that money shouldn't buy. And maybe that's a weakness - money (commoditisation) really does change everything and it is very difficult to change things back. Neoliberalism is still alive and well, as Colin Crouch has pointed out, and a well entrenched oligarchy continues to dominate the global agenda.
Nice ideas though.
22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great analysis of the problems, not so great when it comes to solutions,
This review is from: How Much is Enough?: Money and the Good Life (Hardcover)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. The questionable alternative they propose, though, detracts from the chapters' impact.
Overall, definitely a recommended read, but I'd suggest some discussions of the capability approach as a guide to better solutions: like Nussbaum's Creating Capabilities: The Human Development Approach.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Timely, ambitious and thought-provoking,
This review is from: How Much is Enough?: Money and the Good Life (Hardcover)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.
I didn't agree with all they had to say: the discussion of the inadequacy of currently prevailing environmental arguments for limiting growth was rather `ad hominem' in places, and dismissive of the possibility of creatures other than human beings as capable of conceiving, or holding, values. Nevertheless, this is a very stimulating discussion, at a time when many are casting round for new ideas to populate a very much changed economic and social landscape.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A few gaps in an otherwise compelling argument,
This review is from: How Much is Enough?: Money and the Good Life (Hardcover)To be clear what this book is not, it is not a 'self-help' book setting out a 10 point plan for a happier life. In fact the authors in their wide ranging and fascinating discussions make clear that pursuit of happiness in and of itself is a pointless and self defeating exercise. Instead the book looks at potential political solutions to the current mess we seem to have got ourselves in, specifically arguing that economic growth as an end in itself is responsible for the problems modern society is facing with the laudable objective of making economics and free markets work for us rather than the other way round.
After detailing how philosophers, particularly from the ancient world, dealt with these conundrums the book's conclusion is a summary of the requirements for a 'good life' (while interesting, they are neither surprising or controversial) and in the final chapter some political solutions that might move us in the right direction: some of these, such as a 'basic income' for all citizens have some fairly obvious counter arguments, but on balance the authors won me round.
However, I have one fairly major criticism of an issue the authors fail to address. The basic premise is that the UK (and the rest of the developed world, but it is nice to read a book written from a British perspective) already has the wealth it needs and so should turn away from prioritising economic growth towards the ideals of leading a 'good life'. I am not an economist, but my understanding is that much of the trouble we are now in is a result of us having already lived a long way beyond our means both as individuals (credit card and mortgage debt) and as a society (government debt) and so we are forced to adopt an austerity no-one wants in order to avoid the fate that is befalling Southern European nations. The Sidelskys seem to advocate higher public spending and taxes (eg for the aforementioned 'basic income') without squaring how that fits with an economy which appears to be at the limits of what it can afford. In other words, the core idea of the book, that we -as a country - are already 'rich enough' does not seem to take into account the idea that much of the apparent material wealth is based on unsustainable levels of debt. This seemed a pretty key constraint to the authors' proposals, and strange that it is not addressed in their arguments. Otherwise, an interesting and stimulating read.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Asking the all important question: what is wealth for?,
This review is from: How Much is Enough?: Money and the Good Life (Hardcover)How much is enough? is a family effort - Edward is a philosophy professor, his father Robert is an economic historian and cross-bench peer in the House of Lords. The book straddles economics and philosophy effortlessly. It doesn't answer the question of the title in a literal sense, but is rather "an argument against insatiability, against that psychological disposition which prevents us, as individuals and as societies, from saying `enough is enough'."
Their theory is that as consumer society has developed, tendencies that have always been there in human nature have morphed from vices into virtues. Where it used to be frowned upon, the desire for money has become the central motivation of a whole civilization. All through history, people have had a vision for what makes a good life - friendship, leisure, respect, and so on. The difference now is that we no longer have an end in mind; we do not know what wealth is for. The "assumption that there is a good life, and that money is merely a means to its enjoyment, has been shared by every great civilization but our own" they suggest.
The book draws from a wide range of sources, both Western and Eastern. It weaves its logic through Goethe, the book of Revelation, the Brahmasutras. Within two pages you might take in Machiavelli, Milton and Marx. If you enjoy this kind of philosophical rockhopping, it's a real joy to read, and reminds me of Margaret Atwood's writing on debt. If you don't, well, consider yourself warned.
There's one big downside to the book. In the process of critiquing the idea of constant economic growth, there's a chapter on the environment and the idea of natural limits to growth. Although this idea ought to chime with theirs, they have little time for it. This would be fine if they could make a good case, but sustainability is not their area of expertise, and their arguments sound rather secondhand. They also focus their critique around extremist green writers such as Paul Ehrlich or James Lovelock, rather than the hundreds of more moderate and considered writers in the field. Naturally, this prejudices their conclusions.
This uncharacteristically weak chapter aside, it's a fine book. The concluding chapters attempt to define `the good life', and how it could be pursued in policy, including more leisure time, localism, and ending the dominance of finance, amongst much else. Whatever you think of their specific proposals, it's not enough to shrug off the question, say Skidelsky and Skidelsky: "simply to blunder on without having a view about what wealth is for, is an indulgence rich countries can no longer afford."
I agree, and I hope How much is enough? is widely read, because it opens up some interesting new perspectives. Its ecological blindspot aside, it's a very good book.
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars How Much is Enough,
This review is from: How Much is Enough?: Money and the Good Life (Hardcover)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?' This raised major doubts about the relative importance they give to the texts they refer to and also the depth to which they have read them. For example, after doggedly struggling through their seemingly endless surmise about Faust and an obscure 1928 paper by Keynes, I find this pivotal chapter dismissing in two sentences the multi-million selling and hugely relevant 'Limits to Growth' published in 1972, describing its 'prophecies' as having turned out to be 'unduly alarmist'. That book was forecasting the state of the world in 2100 and its predictions are still alarmingly on track, so how on earth can they dismiss it so prematurely? On oil reserves they complacently cite 'the opening up of new fields in Alaska and Mexico'. Those oil fields were actually discovered years ago and the authors seem disturbingly unaware of the fact that already in 2012 they have dramatically declined to 20% of their peak output. World oil production has been on a plateau for 5 years despite record prices, yet there is no mention at all of 'peak oil' and the many expert petroleum geologists who have written on this critical issue. On the vital topic of climate change they have referred to such famously biased science-denying hacks as Lomborg and Lawson rather than any one of hundreds of professional climatologists who have written extensively on this grave threat to humanity's future. Unbelievably, writing in 2012 they don't even mention the massive demands being placed on the planet by the unprecedented acceleration in demand for all its resources and the resulting global pollution caused by the hyper-development taking place in China, India, Brazil and the rest. I had imagined that this book would have been a useful addition to the critical debate about how much individual human consumption a finite earth can bear. Instead it is whimsical, poorly-focussed, ill-informed, badly-researched and years out of date.
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Economic Philosophy Revived,
This review is from: How Much is Enough?: Money and the Good Life (Hardcover)This is a welcome revival and excellent example of the genre of philosophical political essay. It is well written, intellectually well informed and referenced, and compelling. As the authors themselves say `Philosophy was a powerful force in public life until the early twentieth century, when it retreated into linguistic hair-splitting' (p92). Particularly Anglo-American `analytical philosophy' got lost in arid epistemology and methodology, although European philosophy has retained a focus on moral issues, value and virtue (see Susan Neiman, André Comte-Sponville etc).
The Skidelskys' main theme follows a well established critique of the pursuit of economic growth per se. It therefore suffers the same critique levelled by Tony Crosland at E J Mishan's 1967 `The Costs of Economic Growth', ie that the argument is elitist. Even in apparently wealthy societies, intellectuals enjoy lifestyles powered by 2 to 3 times average income. To bring the average lifestyle anywhere near that of the elite will require decades of high economic growth. The alternative of radical redistribution is not on their agenda.
Having keyed into Keynes's `mistake' in forecasting an immense increase in leisure from productivity gains, the second and third chapters offer a brilliant stimulating read tracing economic philosophy through Plato, Augustine, Goethe's Faust, Adam Smith, Marx and Marcuse. The conclusion however is a strong critique of the politics of state `neutrality' which emerged from tolerance, which places all moral decision with the individual and excuses the state from moral positions. The implied suggestion that we want to return to state defined ethics is one most freedom fighters would want to challenge.
The Skidelskys' argument is also subjective and not fully analysed. They dismiss `happiness' philosophy as merely substituting an un-measurable utilitarian goal for GDP, and environmental sustainability for its lack of focus on today's generation. Their proposal is to adopt 7 dimensions of the `good life', ie health, security, respect, personality, harmony with nature, friendship, and leisure. How and why these 7 elements have been chosen, why others like justice have been excluded, how this list is superior to the 18 virtues celebrated in Comte-Sponville's `Short Treatise on the Great Virtues' is not explored. The enabling policy prescription is then a basic income, an expenditure tax to reduce consumption, a tax on advertising, and a proportionate reduction in world trade.
This is where fuller analysis needs working through. Taking the work/leisure issue, firstly the definitions are not at all clear and absolute. Leisure will reduce output but increase consumption if it is not to be entirely idle. This may be entirely what is needed if the present crisis is caused by productivity diverging from real wages, increasing output whilst depressing disposable income. But it will need the basic citizen's income the Skidelskys propose. Indeed, the argument is complete if it is recognised that the productivity/real wage gap is inevitable in an advanced technology economy, making debt equally inevitable, and a non-repayable unfunded basic income the only ultimate remedy. Simply reducing consumption would aggravate the present crisis and lead to unemployment and poverty for lower income workers. For example, stopping eating bananas would devastate some developing economies, despite the ecological gain.
The book ends with a wistful suggestion that religion may have a contribution to the remodelling of economic society the authors promote. This would be preferable to state morality if coercion is to be avoided. But religion would also need to reform to be more inclusive, offer more social meta-narrative from its myths, and put aside its doctrinal emphases. We can only hope. In the meantime, the Skidelskys' book deserves and needs the rich debate it inspires.
Author `An Enlightened Philosophy - Can an Atheist Believe Anything?'
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful,
This review is from: How Much is Enough?: Money and the Good Life (Hardcover)A thoughtful investigation of what constitutes the good life. It's a welcome change to economics based on the market alone.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book you need to read - but give yourself time.,
This review is from: How Much is Enough?: Money and the Good Life (Kindle Edition)A wonderful book - but I found it a heavy read. Worth the effort though; it has certainly made me think!
2.0 out of 5 stars Disjointed and too radical in places.,
This review is from: How Much is Enough?: Money and the Good Life (Kindle Edition)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. It's a flaw in human nature that I can see all around me (I see in myself) and I agree in principle that we should try and change perceptions in society to shy away from the soulless accumulation of wealth. The book itself starts well and for a while I was getting sucked in, with quite varied (but sometimes barely relevant) philosophical arguments - I enjoyed this aspect of the book and if nothing else it gave me a summary of the philosophy of some great thinkers.
My main problem with the book was in its solutions to the problems, the authors were quick to point out arguments that could be used against them, for instance from the perspective of an economist: "Economists have no ambition to remake human nature. They take people as they are, not as they should be. After all the horrors committed in the name of heaven and utopia, this seems to them a suitably modest stance." - but then they quickly move away from modesty and go on to give some rather revolutionary suggestions on how we should actually remake human nature. For instance one of the suggestions is that we pay all citizens state benefits, regardless of how hard they work - this would take the pressure off people who don't want to work and let them enjoy the good life if they want, free from the fear of financial ruin if not competing in the rat race. This suggestion (and some of the others) are crazy, I've personally visited the likes of India, and seen the great mass of excess humans with so few resources spread among them - these are humans who are now competing in a global market place for limited resources and who are willing to work hard in order to get some more of the basics in life. The Skidelskys suggest that the western world can just pay all its citizens money to live in a human zoo and not worry at all about productivity, completely ignoring the fact that the western world already has huge trade deficits with the developing world, and at some point countries which don't produce enough to look after themselves will not have the resources to maintain their current standard of living - mechanization will not work in the long term when we are paying the Chinese to make all our robots...
Also later in the book some rather far Left thinking starts coming into it: "No country has become rich under a free-trade regime. They have entered the global market from a starting point of initial wealth, not one of initial poverty." - what absolute nonsense, free trade has been the making of the western world (and I'd recommend the excellent Why Nations Fail for more reading on the subject http://www.amazon.co.uk/Why-Nations-Fail-Origins-Prosperity/dp/1846684307), I can think of several territories that have got wealthy under the auspices of free trade, Hong Kong and Singapore both transformed their economies from feudal to super-western within a generation while surrounded by countries who stayed poor, with closed markets. I am an Irish citizen in my late 20's and I grew up in a house that could not afford a telephone, despite the problems now very few people don't have top of range television sets with Sky television (and food is a non issue for almost everyone, I can remember visiting my grand parents for dinner during the leaner times). The liberalisation of the Irish market brought the country prosperity, and the continued liberal market (with low taxes) is the main economic driver in the quicker recovery from recession that other indebted European nations with more closed markets.
Finally I was somewhat dismayed at some of the closing sentiments, this being one "Most of the liberal reformers of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were Christians; others were among those who, as Keynes said of himself, `destroyed Christianity and yet had its benefits'. Could a society entirely devoid of the religious impulse stir itself to pursuit of the common good? We doubt it." - I am not quite sure if it's only 'religious impulse' which is being espoused (as in how the Communists and Fascists of Europe, or New Dealers of America went about their business with a religious impulse) or actual Religion itself - if the former it smacks of Utopia seeking, and as quoted our history of this tends to end in us burning people (like the waste product of a failed experiment as Christopher Hitchens once put it) - if it's the latter then it suggests that we have learned nothing from the Dark Ages of humans being controlled through credulity.
Overall, I've concentrated my efforts on the flaws of the book which mostly ruined it for me, however there is some very good philosophy to pick out at the start and in the middle, and it only really falls flat for me on the far Left solutions. The book is probably worth a read for these philosophical excerpts alone, but I wouldn't take much from it in terms of helping us solve what are some genuine problems with society.
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How Much is Enough?: Money and the Good Life by Edward Skidelsky (Hardcover - 28 Jun 2012)