Saturday, September 7, 2013

How much is enough? by Robert Skidelsky and Edward Skidelsky

It is common enough to credit greed with all the troubles of the world.  But we all play a role as well as being victims of our own greed.  Most of us are not satisfied with what we have as there always seems to be something else we need for happiness, but the goal is always elusive.  Other people have pretty much everything we want and they still want more.

Originally read the book to think about my own individual situation and the author does have some relevant thoughts.  The author feels that happiness should not be the goal, but rather to have reasons to be happy, such as health, respect, friendship and leisure time.  Much of the focus is pointed towards society as a whole.  A big obstacle is the acceptance of inequality.

I had read "A Book on John Maynard Keyes" by Robert Skildelsky explaining the famous economist.  Keynes underlying theme was that the only purpose of any economic system should be to improve the well being of mankind.  Of course the study of economics attracts those who want to know the secrets of getting more money.

The constant push towards more growth seems to cause all sorts of problems--the environment is stressed, inequality seems to increase, while some people work more hours than they want others can't get enough work.  What makes this possible is mankind's insatiability. Once our basic needs are taken care of we want something extra and nowadays our fantasies are coming to life.  Maslow's pyramid points to less materialistic goals which do drive some people in their search for meaning, but are not universal even amongst those who have all their physical needs met.

Before society could move towards the ideal of everyone enjoying life instead of pursuing money competitively we need a change in philosophy.  It would be normal to expect skepticism as those on top appear horrified with sharing their wealth.

One step is to increase taxes so that money can be redistributed, particularly to public service.  This of course would be resisted by those who would pay.  Some who have attained wealth understand that it comes from wage earners and that everyone benefits from pooling our resources into infrastructure. Unfortunately too many feel that only they deserve the highest standard of living possible.  Spreading the wealth can have the effect of growing the wealth, but also diminishes incentives.

The pressure to consume needs to be reduced in order to reduce the pressure to work.  If we didn't want to own a bigger house, a faster car, snappier clothes than our peers there would not be as much desire to work overtime or work hard for a promotion.  We compete for more glamorous vacations, best seats, etc.  It is not just that we want to have more, we want to have more than our neighbours.

Reducing the effect of advertising is a key remedy.  A lot of people make their living through advertising (I am one) and their efforts often increase the growth of companies and institutions, providing jobs for others.

While I agree that business and advertising are aimed at getting you to buy things that you don't necessarily need, marketing actually starts at the other end by trying to find out what you would be willing to pay money for.  Basically advertising is a tool which can be used for a wide range of tasks including what might be considered noble ends.

The problem is we have to make a living and unless you have a great deal of  (perhaps "enough"is a better word choice) money an individual has little power to change the system.  You don't necessarily have to be filthy rich in order to set your own priorities.  If you don't have all the needed resources to get something you have to either re-evaluate what you want or figure out how you are going to get the resources.

I understand the mission, but feel I am not much closer to an answer.  I have found that a lot of my stuff is not as valued as when bought.  Experiences are more valued as I age. There is a fear that the money will run out before I do, but want to enjoy life while I can and I do realize that money is only part of the solution.  How about you?

You can read more of Robert Skidelsky's views at

No comments:

Post a Comment