Saturday 16 December 2017

Business: We will never be satisfied with what we have

How Much is Enough? By Robert and Edward Skidelsky

John Mulligan

John Mulligan

It seems an apt time of year to take a look at 'How Much is Enough? – The Love of Money, and the Case for the Good Life'.

Father and son, the Skidelskys set out to get us thinking about the 'good life' and argue that capitalism in its current form, as well as modern economic trajectories, are focused too much on growth for growth's sake. What about leisure time, equality, distribution of wealth, they ask, and what changes would we need to make to radically alter the status quo?

They reflect on a notion posited by economics John Maynard Keynes, who suggested back in a 1930 essay that, due to technological advancements and increased productivity, we would have to work less and less to satisfy our needs and would eventually not need to work at all. Just 15 hours a week, is all he suggested we would need to be working by 2030.

The Skidelskys set out to examine what has stopped us achieving this goal and what we need to do to get there. They insist they're not presenting an argument for idleness.

They say that while people may argue that without the sense of purpose that work engenders, natural laziness might come to the fore, the father and son authors can only meet those objections with a "declaration of faith".

That seems wholly insufficient. To think that if people were presented with the opportunity to work just 15 hours a week while maintaining their standard of living, without social ills – from crime to alcohol and drug abuse just to think of a couple – ballooning, appears naive.

Certainly, many would use their newfound freedom sensibly, but it could be the case that increased social ills impinge on their quality of life, even negating some of the benefits bestowed by more leisure time.

And what about acute services provided in places such as hospitals, or by air traffic controllers, pilots or police? Who gets to work 15 hours a week? Where would you draw the line?

"Reducing the pressure to consume is an important way of reducing the pressure to work," they say, "because we work mainly to consume, so the less we want to consume, the less we will want to work.

"Yet our society promotes conspicuous and extravagant consumption, even by those who cannot afford it."

And here's the thing: We may never see the 15-hour week, but the Skidelskys provide plenty of food for thought, even if you don't agree with their theories. And consuming less would be an ideal place for everyone to start.

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