A fine and healthy debate

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Adam and Eve were living in a world of plenty. They were in the Garden of Eden and everything was taken care of.

They could have:

  • had long, revealing conversations with God
  • deepened their love and understanding of each other
  • lived in harmony with their environment while exercising a minimal self-restraint
  • contemplated, cultivated and created beauty
  • enjoyed the good life.

Instead, they became obsessed with the idea of more, and what did they get?

More work, more pain, more disease and two sons who were so desperate to re-ingratiate themselves with God, that they ended up hating and killing one another…

This was one of those fleeting thoughts regarding the origins of our current economic, spiritual and moral crisis that probably would not have made it out of my personal diary, if it hadn’t been for Fareed Zakaria’s show GPS on CNN this past weekend. Coincidentally, he had invited Britain’s Robert and Edward Skidelsky – University professors and authors of a deeply provocative and intellectually stimulating book – to talk about just that.

The Skidelskys’ new book, “How Much is Enough – Money and the Good Life” takes an unusually fresh and honest stab at the “deathly orthodoxy” of economics as the mathematics of greed and at the obsessive pursuit of GDP growth as the sole measure of  a good life, while pleading for economics as a moral discipline which has to recognize that there is more to a rich, gratifying life than the mere material, monetized pre-requisites of wealth.

This is not one of those excentric, edulcorated, vaguely philosophical books written by misguided idealists. The authors know what they are talking about.  Robert Skidelsky is Emeritus Professor of Political Economy at the University of Warwick and an acclaimed expert on Keynes, while Edward is a lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Exeter.  Their research and their line of argumentation are as complex and serious as they are accessible. In the authors’ own words this book – full of exciting cultural references from the classics – is “an argument against insatiability”, focused on offering (against all odds) an objective and morally sustainable view of “the constituents of a good life”: health, security, respect, personality, friendship, harmony with nature, leisure.

How Much is Enough – Money and the Good Life” makes a wildly compelling argument, full of aha moments, well worth reading at this stage of our development in the Western (i.e. rich) world – and not only!  I can only recommend it. Together with Richard Heinberg’s “The End of Growth – Adapting to Our New Economic Reality” and Chrystia Freeland’s “Plutocrats – The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else“, I consider it part of a new school of thought that is gaining momentum. It is a troika of books that should not be missing from the bookshelves of those concerned with policy-making for future generations, as well as those simply concerned with making sense of their lives and escaping  the futility of the “rat race”.

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