How Much Is Enough? Money and the Good Life | Robert Skidelsky

Summary of: How Much Is Enough? Money and the Good Life
By: Robert Skidelsky


Discover the key to living a fulfilling life beyond the pursuit of wealth in the summary of ‘How Much Is Enough? Money and the Good Life’ by Robert Skidelsky. This book examines why our society has failed to achieve John Maynard Keynes’ prediction of a 15-hour work-week and questions our obsession with accumulating wealth. Delve into the insatiability of wants, the history of economic thought, and how our understanding of happiness has evolved. Learn about the ideas of Aristotle on the ‘good life’ and explore potential solutions for moving towards a truly contented society.

The Failed Predictions of James Maynard Keynes

James Maynard Keynes, a renowned economist, predicted that in 100 years, Western societies would obtain so much wealth that no one would have to work more than three hours a day. While we have indeed obtained wealth and increased our work efficiency through technological development, Keynes’ forecast of a 15-hour work-week failed spectacularly. This is due to unequal accumulation and distribution of wealth, as well as the continual advancements in work automatization resulting in underpaid service contractors. The richest one percent in the USA receive about 18% of the national income, and even those who could afford luxury often still work well over 40 hours a week. Keynes’ prediction of a life of rewarding leisure for everyone hasn’t become a reality.

The Insatiability of Wants

The constant desire for more goods is fueled by psychological and societal factors, as well as capitalism. Capitalistic ideas have led to the relentless pursuit of money and the belief that everything has a price.

Do you ever wonder why you feel the need to constantly upgrade your possessions, whether it’s your car or your TV? The insatiability of wants explains why we keep striving for more, even when we don’t necessarily need it. This drive is fueled by both psychological and societal factors.

Some psychologists argue that our desire for more is rooted in a need to escape boredom, especially for those in affluent societies. On the other hand, sociologists believe that this drive is due to the relativity of wants, where we always want what others have or something that sets us apart.

Capitalism plays a significant role in this as well, as market competition drives firms to manufacture wants through marketing and continually produce new products. Capitalistic ideas have also led to an obsession with money in society, where all goods and services are valued in terms of their cost rather than their quality.

This skewed perspective has caused us to view education as an “investment” rather than a path to self-improvement. Furthermore, capitalist societies value the accumulation of wealth above anything else, leading bankers to buy more estates even in their old age.

In conclusion, the insatiability of wants is a complex issue influenced by various factors. It’s important to recognize and question the societal and psychological pressures that drive our desire for more and the relentless pursuit of wealth.

The Shifting Perception of Wealth in Economics

The pursuit of wealth was once considered a necessary evil, but with the rise of modern economics, it became a fundamental virtue. Adam Smith, the founder of modern economics, believed that self-interest would lead to the public good, as guided by an “invisible hand.” However, this shift led to a Faustian bargain, where wealth came at the expense of impoverished workers. We made a deal with the devil, accepting the selfish struggle for wealth.

The Illusion of Wealth

The pursuit of wealth has become an end in itself, leading to a never-ending rat race. Economic and political theories have undermined our chances of conceiving a world where we can have enough of anything. Pursuing wealth has been reduced to an individual’s right to self-determination, with no greater purpose. The author proposes organizing a way of life that leads to true happiness.

The Elusive Nature of Happiness

Happiness is a term that is often oversimplified to a subjective state of mind. However, it has evolved over time, stripping it of its objective criteria, resulting in a self-serving pursuit of pleasure without regard for others. As a result, it is no longer possible to define happiness objectively. Attempts at measuring happiness through economics and individual self-reports are flawed due to personal and cultural conceptions of what happiness means. Without a universal definition of happiness, statistics linked to happiness and wealth are unreliable.

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