A question perhaps not asked often enough in capitalist societies is “How Much is Enough?” The world we live in is a place where there is growing inequality, where many only subsist at the lowest levels of society. They earn the minimum wage. At least there is a minimum wage now in many countries, but what you can access with the minimum wage is not enough as well. One of the problems that has led to this coming about, according to some economists, is the idea that we have an insatiable desire for the material and for money. As Larry Elliot reports, writing for The Guardian:
“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.”
The question of how much is enough was the subject of a book by Robert and Edward Skidelsky. What led them to write this book was an essay written in 1930, by the great economist Keynes, that predicted that over the next century, income would rise steadily, people’s basic needs would be met and no one would have to work more than fifteen hours a week. Why was he so wrong? According to Robert and Edward Skidelsky the real issue at stake here is that wealth is not – or should not be – an end in itself, but a means to ‘the good life’. The writers, that are father and son, trace the concept from Aristotle to the present, showing how far modern life has strayed from that ideal. They reject the idea that there is any single measure of human progress, whether GDP or ‘happiness’, and instead describe the seven elements which, could make up the “good life” and what would be the policies that could realize them.7 elements for a good life Intelligenthq
According to Larry Elliot from “The Guardian” while there may be short term steps that need to be taken to get the global economy back on its feet, there are much more sweeping reforms that also need to occur to make sure that the world becomes a saner place to live in. These reforms need to start with how we measure progress, explains Elliot. One of the main challenges at the moment is that we measure progress by looking at statistics like per capita incomes, but the book points out that in fact it would be much more effective to measure what are explained to be the “seven elements of the good life.” These seven elements are health, security, respect, personality, harmony with nature, friendship and leisure. It is pointed out that in the UK for example, the UK per capita income has doubled since 1974, but in fact we have no more of the basic goods than we did in 1974.
Elliot disputes this particular point. He explains that while job security as a whole is much weaker than it was in the early 1970s, a lot of the other factors are much improved. For example, he cites that less people die of lung cancer than in the past, so health has improved. Equally friendship still exists, and is as important as it ever was. In addition, he argues the point that the UK is more of a tolerant and respectful place than it ever was in the past.
Nonetheless, Elliot does agree that the book has important merits. He states that we live in a place where there are on one side of the scale workaholics that have far more money than they know what to do with or in some cases will ever be able to spend. On the other hand there are millions of people that do not have work and who struggle on a daily basis to be able to survive and pay for the very basics that they need to subsist. He also explains that in the middle of all of this there are what he calls “debt slaves” who are close to only just subsisting themselves. These are the people that are always worried about meeting mortgage payments. Elliot explains that the Skidelskys believe that it is possible to improve on this, and he says it is difficult to refute this point.
As Elliot explains, the book has many merits. It discusses how the “good life” that they explain is so important can be achieved. Different ideas include having a basic income for citizens and having a tax on expenditures. It is also argued that there should be more restrictions on advertising with a view to reducing the level of consumerism. As Elliot puts it however, there is less focus on how all of this should be enacted. But the question of how much is enough remains. As Jo Confino (2014) of The Guardian summarises the problem succinctly:
“The current economic system has created great wealth and brought hundreds of millions of people out of abject poverty, but in its search for continuous growth, it is increasingly becoming a destructive force that is stimulating climate change, resource scarcity, growing inequality and biodiversity loss on an epic scale.”
The debate continues. How much do you think is enough?
Paula Newton is a business writer, editor and management consultant with extensive experience writing and consulting for both start-ups and long established companies. She has ten years management and leadership experience gained at BSkyB in London and Viva Travel Guides in Quito, Ecuador, giving her a depth of insight into innovation in international business. With an MBA from the University of Hull and many years of experience running her own business consultancy, Paula’s background allows her to connect with a diverse range of clients, including cutting edge technology and web-based start-ups but also multinationals in need of assistance. Paula has played a defining role in shaping organizational strategy for a wide range of different organizations, including for-profit, NGOs and charities. Paula has also served on the Board of Directors for the South American Explorers Club in Quito, Ecuador.