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How Much is Enough?: Money and the Good Life Hardcover – 28 Jun 2012

4.1 out of 5 stars 36 customer reviews

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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: 14.4 x 2.6 x 22.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 176,948 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


A crisp and pungent book (Rowan Williams Prospect)

"How much is enough?" is a good question. Anyone who sets store by capitalism and markets will find [this] book uncomfortable reading. It should be read all the same (Economist)

A truly innovative and radical perspective on reshaping the economy ... thought-stirring and extremely refreshing (John Gray Guardian)

A welcome call to reinvigorate society's ethical aspect and bring about the good life for everyone (New Yorker)

In their thoughtful book, the Skidelskys move seamlessly from the abstract to the concrete; from philosophy to public policy. They note that Keynes's futuristic essay was ignored as the world sank into the Great Depression. Will we again ignore this call to imagine a better future? (Jon Cruddas MP Independent) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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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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''.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Father-and-son duo Edward and Robert Skidelsky never answer the question posed by their title (although one footnote provides an estimate that around $66,000 per year should be sufficient to live their version of the good life; roughly the average wage in the USA in 2014). They ask it to highlight the ludicrous assumptions which underlie contemporary economic policy; in particular that an ever-increasing GDP and full employment should be the principal policy tool for improving citizens' wellbeing.

The Skidelskies rightly point out that economics is not an end in itself; a argument that may seem self-evident; but often appears to be overlooked in contemporary political discourse. Instead they portray it as a 'Faustian bargain' with the less admirable qualities in our nature; used to bootstrap society to a developmental stage where we can again focus on quality of life. One of this book's most valuable points is that the continued focus on improving objective economic measures does not do away with the values-based politics which so traumatised the early 20th century. Instead it merely obscures the ideals and beliefs required to justify such an aim. Contemporary politics, in other words, is not the bland managerialism its propenents portray.

So far, I found the Skidelskies' thesis compelling. But problems begin to creep in. Robert Skidelsky is the author of a biography of Keynes - whose short essay 'Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren' is used to introduce the book - and Edward a professor of philosophy with a preference for value ethics. One gets the feeling early on that the Skidelskies tend to frame the debate in light of their preferred fields.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
One answer to the question of the book's title is given by the epigraph to this excellent book: "Nothing is enough for the man to whom enough is too little". This is the default demanded by consumerism, as driven by the side of capitalism that exalts "some of the most reviled human characteristics, such as greed, envy and avarice." Robert and Edward Skidelsky are not dogmatic anti-capitalists, however. They acknowledge capitalism's success at making "possible vast improvements in material conditions" but they're more interested in how insatiability "leads us away from the good life" and in how the continued pursuit of economic growth may actually damage what we value most. For those of us who want to step off the "nothing is enough" treadmill, the Skidelskys provide a valuable framework with which to resist the clamour of advertising and lifestyle choice and the lure of endless acquisition.

What's wrong with acquisitiveness, or, less pejoratively, with aspiration? The authors dismiss the critiques given by both Marxism ("economic insatiability is a creation of capitalism") and Christianity (it's "the product of original sin"). Their own view is that economic insatiability is rooted in human nature - "in the disposition to compare our fortune with that of our fellows and find it wanting" - but that it "has been greatly intensified by capitalism, which has made it the psychological basis of an entire civilization." (They might have quoted Shakespeare. Nerissa, Portia's gentlewoman-in-waiting in The Merchant of Venice, puts it simply: "they are as sick that surfeit with too much as they that starve with nothing.")

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