By Robert Skidelsky and Edward Skidelski
How Much Is Enough is a provocative and timely call for a moral approach to economics, drawing on philosophers, political theorists, writers, and economists from Aristotle to Marx to Keynes
What constitutes the good life? What is the true value of money? Why do we work such long hours merely to acquire greater wealth? These are some of the questions that many asked themselves when the financial system crashed in 2008. How Much Is Enough tackles such questions head-on. The authors begin with the great economist John Maynard Keynes. In 1930 Keynes predicted that, within a century, per capita income would steadily rise, people’s basic needs would be met, and no one would have to work more than fifteen hours a week [see Keynes' essay here]. Clearly, he was wrong: though income has increased as he envisioned, our wants have seemingly gone unsatisfied, and we continue to work long hours. The Skidelskys explain why Keynes was mistaken.
Then, arguing from the premise that economics is a moral science, they trace the concept of the good life from Aristotle to the present and show how our lives over the last half century have strayed from that ideal. Finally, they issue a call to think anew about what really matters in our lives and how to attain it. How Much Is Enough? is a work of deep intelligence and ethical commitment accessible to all readers.
Larry Elliott on The Guardian wrote:
"The basic belief that a somehow qualitatively ‘good’ life is more important than financial gain is and old thing, but this book puts it all down so succinctly and with reference to Western society’s current challenges, that it’s hard not to see this book as the most important one of the moment. The book reanimates certain philosophical ideas (such as Aristotle’s Ethics and the Escapologist’s favourite, Epicurus) about good living, and questions the goals of Capitalism and the uses of wealth. It describes Capitalism as a kind of Faustian pact, one which we have the opportunity to renege upon or be duped by. [...] The book also features a history of utopian thinking; a spirited if somewhat sobering critique of both ‘happiness economics’ and environmental activism in relation to economics; and some explanations for how capitalism might not be a terrible thing inherently but has gone somewhat haywire in a Promethean kind of way. Read it. It’s important. Escapology for society."
Richard A. Posner on The New York Times wrote:
"How Much Is Enough? argues that the modern world is characterised by insatiability, an inability to say enough is enough, and the desire for more and more money. Economics, a narrowly focused discipline in which there is no distinction between wants and needs, has driven to the end of a cul-de-sac. As in 1930, the Skidelskys say, the short-term need to get the global economy moving again should not deflect policy-makers from reforms that will lay the foundations of a saner, more stable world. The book argues that progress should be measured not by the traditional yardsticks of growth or per capita incomes but by the seven elements of the good life: health; security; respect; personality; harmony with nature; friendship; and leisure. [...] They favour a society influenced rather less by Anglo-Saxon capitalism and rather more by the catholic teachings that inspired Europe's postwar social market economy. Sprinkle in a bit of Keynesian liberalism and a pinch of social democracy and the good society is within reach. Well, perhaps. How Much Is Enough? is a spirited polemic but it is not without its faults. The book starts and finishes well but has a long central philosophical section in which the disquisitions on Marcuse and Aristotle give the impression that the authors are showing off. They also have quite fixed views on what constitutes the good life. [...] But the main problem with this book is one of political agency. They make a series of sensible suggestions for how the good life could be attained: a basic citizens income, an expenditure tax and curbs on advertising to rein in consumerism; a Tobin tax on financial transactions. Where they are less convincing is in sketching out how these policies will be effected."
David Gordon on Mises Review wrote:
"The inspiration for How Much Is Enough? is — unsurprisingly, given the father’s preoccupation — an essay by Keynes. It is called Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren and was published in 1930. Since it is by Keynes, it is ingenious and brilliantly written. It is also dated and unconvincing. [...] The Skidelskys are correct that because goods and services can be produced with much less labor than in 1930, we could live now as we did then while working many fewer hours. We want to live better than that. And what would we do with our newfound leisure? Most people would quickly get bored without the resources for varied and exciting leisure activities [...] But with everyone working just 20 hours a week (on the way down to 15 in 2030), few of these opportunities would materialize, because people who worked so little would be unable to afford them. Nor could leisure-activity services be staffed adequately. [...] The Skidelskys have an exalted conception of leisure. They say that the true sense of the word is 'activity without extrinsic end' [...] it is ridiculous to think that if people worked just 15 or 20 hours a week, they would use their leisure to cut marble or struggle with a musical score. If they lacked consumer products and services to fill up their time they would brawl, steal, overeat, drink and sleep late. English aristocrats in their heyday didn’t work, but neither did they cut marble or explore the mysteries of space and time. Hunting, gambling and seduction were their preferred leisure activities. Americans value leisure, but it is expensive leisure, and so they have to work hard in order to pay for it. As a result they have less leisure time than if their preferred form of leisure were lying in a hammock, but on balance they obtain more pleasure. [...] But here is the oddest thing about the book: There is virtually no discussion of how people, their incomes halved, might be expected to employ the vastly greater leisure that the authors want them to have."
Alaisdair Palmer on The Telegraph wrote:
"How Much Is Enough? contains valuable discussions of happiness research in economics and of global warming, as well as a capsule history of a good deal of both Western and Asian intellectual history; but unfortunately the book is a disappointment. It rehashes stale complaints against the free market, and its policy proposals have sinister implications. [...] In what we may call oblivious paternalism, they present their own measures to reshape people's lives as fully consistent with respect for freedom. [...] Do people in well-off societies today want 'too much'? The Skidelskys wring their hands in horror over lavish consumer spending, but they offer little reason to think that such spending impedes living a good life. To say that an abundance of goods is not required for a good life does not suffice. Further, even if they were right about the nature of the good life, why should the state endeavor to 'persuade' people to do what is supposed to be good for them? [...] Perhaps, though, their response is to be found in their claim that the state cannot be neutral about conceptions of the good life: this, they think, is a delusion of modern liberals like Rawls. But why can't it be neutral? Suppose it simply refrains from trying to suggest to people how they spend their money. What is this but neutrality?"
Jon Cruddas on The Independent wrote:
"The Skidelskys (father and son) construct radical policy recommendations. They include: opting out of the system of world trade; ending economic growth; eliminating almost all advertising; increasing consumption taxes; and restoring belief in religion. Their vision of what we should do to achieve the good life and society ends up sounding distinctly unappetising. [...] But I think there is an even more fundamental difficulty at the heart of How Much is Enough? [...] The reason why most people keep striving long after they have satisfied all elementary needs is not, as the Skidelskys claim, that they mistakenly think that money is the ultimate value. It is simply that striving for it keeps boredom at bay. The Skidelskys are right that we do not need most of the goods that we amass. But we do need to be diverted from a sense of meaninglessness. Struggling to get richer and competing for status usually does that more effectively than contemplating ultimate values."
"In their thoughtful book they extend Keynes's ethical arguments beyond the Bloomsbury milieux of his time. They challenge the liberal beliefs that have shaped the politics of both Labour and Conservative governments. On the one hand, the self-interested rationalism of liberal market individualism pivots on a one-dimensional view of human nature. On the other, the abstract principles of John Rawls's liberal state, with its neutral stance between competing visions of the good, is a misreading of liberalism. The authors reject both because neither understands that human beings live a life in common with others. [...] The Skidelskys move seamlessly from the abstract to the concrete; from philosophy to public policy. [...] Morally, what is our economy for and how do we rebuild the social sphere? This is the new political centre ground."
- Podcast with Robert Skidelsky and EconTalk host Russ Roberts, The Library of Economics and Liberty, 1 October 2012
- "We need the good life, not pre-washed salad leaves" - OpEd by Edward Skidelsky in The Guardian, 23 June 2012
- "How Much is Enough?" - Commentary by Robert Skidelsky on Project Syndicate, 19 November 2009
Table of Contents of How Much Is Enough
- Keynes's Mistake
- The Faustian Bargain
- The Uses of Wealth
- The Mirage of Happiness
- Limits to Growth: Natural or Moral?
- Elements of the Good Life
- Exits from the Rat Race
About Robert and Edward Skidelsky
- Robert Skidelsky is a professor at the department of economics of the University of Warkick that specializes in economic history. Among others he has written a major, award-winning, three-volume biography of the economist John Maynard Keynes.
- His son Edward Skidelsky is lecturer in philosophy at the University of Exeter. He has written essays on the ethics of capitalism, the value of happiness and the philosophical importance of the history of ideas.