How much is enough

Edward Skidelsky, Robert Skidelsky

Why I looked at this book

In 1930 Keynes spoke about Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren predicting that as wealth increased we should spend more time on leisure. But, attractive as it sounds, it hasn't happened - we seem to be more preoccupied with money than ever. I'm hoping that the Skidelskys can point a way towards achieving Keynes' vision.

First impressions

Early on in the book the authors concede that in the current economic climate a period of growth would be useful to bring down unemployment and deficits. Have they conceded too much? After all, when better to reduce working hours than in a time of unemployment. In Five years of economic crisis I felt that Robert Skidelsky wasn't prepared to say when the time wasn't ripe for Keynesian stimulus, and in this book may have a similar problem - I'll have to see.

Main review

I would say there are several reasons why we should now be following Keynes' thoughts and thinking of stopping the relentless pursuit of wealth and moving towards more leisure.
  • We're coming up against environmental limits - we can't expect growth to deal with problems
  • It seems that automation should be able produce much of what we need
  • Economic problems are rarely about not being able to produce enough - we should be able to give everyone a reasonable standard of living.
  • In online communities much occurs without payment - maybe this could be applied to other areas of our lives.

The strange thing is that this book doesn't seem to relate to any of these ideas. Rather it looks backward, to a time before we were so fixated on economic growth. I'm very suspicious about this - it's seems to be looking back to a golden age, which probably never existed. To be sure at the time of Aristotle a few people could live a life of leisure at the expense of a large number of workers. the authors seem to think that this could be extended to the whole population, but don't really explain how.

The next strange thing is that the authors argue against those who would seem to support their ideas. They aren't too happy with the environmental movement, and they are critical of those who look away from money and talk in terms increasing our utility or happiness. To be sure ideas have their problems, but it seems to me that they are going in the right direction.

The chapter on 'Elements of the good life' is probably the one which is most worth reading, as it looks at what activities should go into a balanced life. But how to achieve it - that's more difficult. The authors discuss a basic income for all, but I feel that this idea needs a lot more discussion - probably a whole book's worth - in order to be persuasive. Also, when the authors say the incomes of public service professionals should be raised, I begin to wonder how serious they are about ending the quest for more money. This book contains some interesting ideas, but if you're looking for persuasive discussion of how we can move towards Keynes' vision then I would look elsewhere.

Reviews Elsewhere

The Amazon Reviews and Goodreads reviews were on balance positive - it seems people like the idea of the book - but with many reservations. Some weren't persuaded by the idea of a basic income. Others found most of the book unpersuasive - more like a student essay than an argument to persuade the reader. Of other reviews, I felt that of The Guardian was well thought out, as was that of the Nexus Institute