The Skidelskys Uncover How Greed Went From A Vice To A Virtue In The Last 250 Years
In How Much is Enough?, Robert and Edward Skidelsky explain how our ceaseless pursuit for more and more materials can be detrimental to our overall well-being.
Armed with the timeless contemplations of Aristotle and the economic insights of John Maynard Keynes, they create a powerful argument against insatiability and its promotion in today’s Western capitalistic societies.
The book shows readers how to escape the rat race in exchange for a happier life by providing an alternative approach to success.
It explains why states could afford to pay citizens to make them happier and how reducing work hours from 40 to 15 a week can lead to greater contentment.
These sections also demonstrate why we should let go of our ingrained notion that greater wealth equals better living conditions.
Ultimately, How Much is Enough? provides insightful methods of achieving fulfillment outside of material goods, while also explaining why greed went from a vice to a virtue over time.
With the information in this book, readers can learn ways of becoming happier without succumbing to societal pressures or bowing down to Adam Smith’s almighty capitalism.
Why Keynes’ Prediction Of A 15-Hour Work-Week Failed Spectacularly
The prediction made by economist James Maynard Keynes roughly 100 years ago that Western societies would have obtained so much wealth that no one would have to work more than 3 hours a day has failed miserably despite the truth of his prediction that we have seen an increase in GDP per capita.
Most people still need to work very hard to meet their needs and struggle to find time for leisure activities.
This is due to the unequal accumulation and distribution of wealth, where the richest one percent in the USA receive 18 percent of the national income while everyone else struggles just to make ends meet.
Even those who could theoretically afford a life of leisure often continue working so they can accumulate even more wealth.
Automation meant to help lessen workloads since the 20th century has also not resulted as intended, instead creating a large number of underpaid service contractors.
In conclusion, although Western societies are richer than ever before, it hasn’t translated into less work for most citizens.
The Insatiability Of Wants: How Capitalism Drives Our Collective Obsession With Money
We live in a world where capitalistic societies are driven by an insatiable desire to have more than we do.
We find continual engagement in activities that enable us to keep up with the latest gadgets and trends, driven by our psychology to kill boredom and distinguish ourselves from others.
Capitalism serves to fuel this drive and allows us to exchange any goods or services for money.
The problem is that this demand for perpetual growth can turn into an unhealthy obsession with wealth, leaving us searching for higher monetary pursuits rather than contentment with what we already have.
We even say things like “education is an investment” as if it only holds monetary value instead of personal growth potential.
These capitalistic ideals that dominate contemporary society ultimately leave us questioning how it came about in the first place; while also realizing that there will never be enough when it comes to accumulating wealth under these conditions.
The Faustian Bargain Of The Industrial Revolution: Trading Souls For Wealth And Technology
The science of economics has done much to shape the way people think, and one such influential transition was the concept that greed had become a virtue.
Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses and Descartes’ “Cogito ergo sum” are just a few examples of how far social thought had changed over time, and economic thoughts were no different.
For generations, having money was seen as a necessary evil one must endure in order to survive with some form of comfort.
However, something started to shift during the Renaissance when Niccolo Machiavelli began advocating for wealth accumulation as a guarantee of social freedom.
This gradual move towards desiring personal wealth gained further traction and legitimacy with the works of Adam Smith, who is considered the father of modern economics.
Smith proposed an ‘invisible hand’ theory which said that humans should exist in free competition – which in turn would benefit society at large.
Thus avarice evolved from being a vice into a virtue and contentment was traded for unrestrained competition that often led to invention but also extended poverty in masses.
It’s almost as if we made a ‘deal with the devil’ in order to gain worldly wonders through machine labors during the Industrial Revolution – not unlike Goethe’s Faustian tale.
The Scourge Of Modern Day Capitalism: How We’Ve Lost Our Sense Of Enough And What We Can Do About It
It seems we’ve lost any notion of what is an acceptable amount of wealth and resources.
We no longer view wealth as a means to an end, but rather an end in itself – something to strive for with no destination in mind.
In pursuit of more and more, the race to “keep up with the Joneses” will never end.
With modern political and economic theories competing for our attention, comparing isn’t just common – it’s encouraged.
Anything less than we can have seems unacceptable in this world, and so our striving goes on without any real purpose or objective being met.
Moreover, these theories have also made it impossible to determine a greater good or an ethical level that should be reached.
We are instead entitled to do whatever we please without considering its consequences – something that has led many individuals down dark paths such as terrorism or Neo-Nazism.
This is why it’s important to understand the implications of surviving solely off pursuiting money and material goods, and why it’s time we reacquire a sense of what is enough so that our values aren’t completely destroyened by capitalism gone wild.
The Meaning Of Happiness Has Been Narrowed Down To A Subjective Assessment, Making Objective Measurements Difficult
The concept of happiness has changed drastically over the years.
Whereas it was once described as a socially acceptable, honorable way to live life, today it’s largely been replaced by a warped notion which associates it more with an individual’s pursuit of pleasure and self-interest.
Unfortunately, this contemporary understanding of happiness has resulted in less overall satisfaction with our lives.
It has allowed avarice to be seen as a virtue and encouraged us to focus on accumulating material wealth for its own sake in the hopes that it will make us happy.
This shift has also led us to rely heavily on subjective assessments of our own happiness.
How do we truly know what constitutes “happiness” for someone else? Without an objective definition that we can all agree on, studies on the connection between wealth and happiness produce conflicting results—looking at someone’s self-reported level of contentment could mean several different things depending on their personal outlook.
It is clear then that conceptualizing happiness through subjective understandings hampers our capacity to find true fulfillment in life, and instead promotes a culture which puts more value on material possessions than happiness itself.
How Ancient Philosophers Like Aristotle Viewed Wealth And The Pursuit Of Happiness
When it comes to seeking out fulfillment and happiness in life, we can do worse than to turn to the wisdom of the ancient philosophers.
One such thinker was Aristotle, who believed that each species has its own telos, or final state of perfection, which it develops towards from the start of its existence.
For humans in particular, this telos is referred to as euzen, or the good life.
Aristotle saw that living a truly fulfilled life meant more than just having material wealth—it required social engagement, philosophy and politics as leisure activities and meaningful connections with friends and family.
Economy was there only as a means to provide material subsistence for a household.
He rejected usury on the grounds that it reduced goods down to their exchange-value instead of appreciating their use-value and shifted society toward functioning for profit instead of for personal growth.
Ultimately, Aristotle cautioned us about the tendency toward an obsession with wealth for its own sake—one with no end in sight—and warned against this path leading away from real joy and contentment.
We have much to gain from remembering his ancient concept of the good life and striving for something more tangible than money.
The Characteristics Needed For Achieving The Good Life In Modern Society
It’s possible to live a good life today, even with the considerable changes since Aristotle’s time.
To do so, one must understand the characteristics of the basic goods – both material and immaterial – that are required for a decent life.
Those goods should be universal, final, self-sufficient, and indispensable.
Health, security and autonomy are essential to create an adequate life.
Additionally, respect for each other’s opinions is important.
The Greeks viewed friendship as far more than just an exchange of favors; it was an essential component in living your best life.
Lastly, harmony with nature makes up for recreational activities – ones that help us to learn about arts, philosophy and morality alike.
In conclusion: Even though things have changed significantly since ancient times, it’s still achievable to lead a decent life today by understanding the core fundamentals needed in achieving it.
States Can Help Citizens Acheive The Good Life Through Basic Income And Lower Pressure On Consumption
The state has to take an increasingly active role in ensuring that its citizens achieve the good life.
To do this, they must make changes to their economy.
One key factor that states can use to improve their citizens’ lives is by introducing a basic income, which provides them with an unconditional payment allowing them more choice of how and how much they work.
This means that people have more incentive to choose leisure over work and alleviate the pressure of consumption.
In addition, states could introduce progressive consumption or expenditure taxes instead of income taxes, meaning only those buying luxury items such as a private jet would be taxed heavily whereas everyday necessities wouldn’t be affected.
This encourages people to save rather than just consume and curbs rampant advertising that fuels insatiable want.
Not only this but reforms should also be made so that companies cannot deduct expenses on advertisements from their taxes.
It’s clear that the state needs to increase its influence over the economy if it hopes for its citizens to attain the good life.
At the end of How Much is Enough? by Alan Watkins, the author leaves us with one major takeaway.
We can choose to reject our societies’ relentless pursuit for money and instead strive for true values that make life meaningful and truly rewarding.
Accumulating wealth does not have to be the sole focus of our existence.
Instead, it should be an accompaniment to a carefree and spirited life that Western societies are capable of providing us without having to slave away in labor as much as many people tend to do nowadays.
All we must do is take a step back from our relentless chase after more money and re-embrace the real values of life.