Review: How Much is Enough?: Money and the Good Life

How Much is Enough?: Money and the Good Life
How Much is Enough?: Money and the Good Life by Robert Skidelsky

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Bit unbalanced but important book. The Skidelsky’s oppose growth for growth’s sake. Growth is ok as means to an end (i.e. the good life) or as an indicator, but not per se. “the long-term goal of economic policy should henceforth not be growth, but the structuring of our collective existence so as to facilitate the good life” (p.179). That current dogma (“free-market fundamenalism”), search for growth, is reframed at p182: “crisis-prone Darwinian capitalism of our own day”.

The Skidelskys want “non-coercive paternalism” (p.193) and “If we are to be paternalistic, let us be honest rather than backdoor paternalists”(p.217, I agree) to obtain the basic goods (the good life) “their realization is probably impossible without the authority and inspiration that only religion can provide”(p.217, I disagree).

Heavy on Keynes references (Skidelsky senior wrote his biography), with interesting/strong asides/philosophy round-ups, sometimes less so (e.g. chapter global warming).

Some interesting bits:
p40-41: “Capitalism has inflamed our innate tendency to insatiability by releasing it from the bounds of custom and religion within which it was formerly confined” 4 forms:
1. Capitalism’s competitive logic drives firms to carve out new markets by (among other things) manipulating wants
2. Capitalism greatly broadens scope of status competition
3. Ideology of free-market capitalism is hostile to idea that certain sum of money could represent ‘enough’
4 Capitalism enlarges insatiability by increasingly ‘monetizing’ the economy

p47: “The wise prince, wrote Machiavelli, treats people as they are, not as they should be; he exploits their fickleness, hypocrisy and greed to attain his ends”

p51: “The study of man as he ‘really is’ rather than as he ‘ought to be’ turned into an unassailable fortress of mathematics, bewitching its acolytes and reducing everyone else to futile protest.”

p69: “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 it has taken away the chief benefit of wealth: the consciousness of having enough.”

p91: “Utility is a purely descriptive concept: it expresses what I want, not what I ought to want. If I prefer to spend my money on crack rather than wine – well, then, crack has more utility for me.”

p92: “[Economics] is the theology of our age, the language that all interests must speak if they are to win a respectful hearing in the courts of power. Economics owes its special position in part to failure of other disciplines (…) Philosophy retreated into linguistic hair-splitting [in early 20th century] (…)”

p114: “Either happiness is understood in the pre-modern sense, as a condition of being, in which case it is not the kind of thing that could be measured by happiness surveys, or it is understood in the modern sense, as a state of mind, in which case it is not the supreme good. Either way, the project of happiness economics fails. ”

p120: “We have tried to show that a happy life, as most of us really understand that phrase, is not just a string of agreeable mental states but one that embodies certain basic human goods. Eudaimonia lurks under the surface of the modern, psychological understanding of happiness”

p148 Nussbaum quote “Where adult citizens are concerned, capability, not functioning is the appropriate political goal” & reaction by authors “”Surely what matters is that they are actually healthy and educated”(as opposed to capable of).

p209: “neoclassical theories of advertising (…) overlook the way in which the market shapes the very preferences it claims to satisfy
p210 Hegel quote: “a need is created not so much by those who experience it directly as by those who seek to profit from its emergence”(p229 in Elements of the Philosophy of Right).

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