Andy Walton looks at whether there is a "Religious Right" emerging in Britain
Nick Spencer reviews Steve Jones' "The Serpent's Promise: The Bible Retold at Science"
Robert Skidelsky: How Much Is Enough?
5th July 2012
On Monday evening, Theos hosted a fascinating evening of discussion with Robert Skidelsky about his new book (co-authored with son Edward), How Much is Enough? The Love of Money, and the Case for the Good Life.
Lord Skidelsky, Emeritus Professor of Political Economy at the University of Warwick, began by presenting Keynes’ vision of the 21st century. While Keynes had correctly predicted that our standard of living would be five times higher than that of his own generation, his expectation that we would be would be working fifteen hour weeks and viewing leisure as the central activity of human life was far off the mark.
The reason for this, Skidelsky explained, is that Keynes underestimated human insatiability, and our constant tendency to compare ourselves to others and desire to be materially better off than others. We have mistakenly come to pursue economic growth as an end in itself, rather than as a means to something more important – the good life. As the book argues, “left to itself, the machinery of want-generation will carry on churning, endlessly and pointlessly.”
Skidelsky argued that we must recognise that while having enough, not being in poverty, is a necessary component of the good life, wealth does not equate to happiness. The good life consists in security, friendship, and material comfort, not in having the latest iPad.
If all this seems obvious, Skidelsky’s policy suggestions are much more radical. These include bringing back the full employment guarantee, a guaranteed minimum income, replacing income tax with a high rate of consumption tax, and – as Keynes wanted – reduced working hours.
As one might expect from an audience containing politicians from both left and right, CEOs of global firms, theologians and social workers, this argument was greeted with some searching questions. Can we really afford to stop pursuing economic growth, given our debt situation? Won’t a loss of international competitiveness lead to falling living standards? Can people agree on the basic elements of the good life anyway?
Skidelsky defended his position passionately, and all who attended left with much to consider and discuss further.
How Much is Enough? The Love of Money, and the Case for the Good Life is published by Allen Lane. Read Nick Spencer's review of it here.
Paul Billingham is currently undertaking an internship at Theos