|How much is enough
Reviewed by Sudhirendar Sharma
30 Jun 2012
Nothing is enough!
As long as humans cover the three distinct stages of goods’ acquisitions,
nothing would be enough because enough would always remain too little. From
acquiring ‘bandwagon goods’, which others possess, to ‘snob goods’, that others
do not have, is a long journey that most of us cover through the markets of want
and desire. The journey ends at what theorist Thorstein Veblen described as
‘Veblen goods’, goods that act as advertisements of wealth.
The father-son duo of Robert and Edward Skidelsky go beyond the current
debate about growing inequality to ask what we need money for? Without doubt,
‘insatiability’ is making people restless, craving for novelty to ride over
restlessness. It is this restlessness that the world of advertising exploits to
create the ‘organised creation of dissatisfaction’. However, the Skidelskys
argue if making money could be the permanent business of humanity?
It may not have been had John Maynard Keynes’s prediction that people would
become rational agents once their wants have been satisfied been proved correct.
The Skidelsky’s have found two blockages to the fulfilment of Keynes’s prophecy:
those rising from power relationships and those rising from insatiability of
wants. Both work in combination to produce an ethic of acquisitiveness, which
has become the essential driver of capitalism. Unless insatiability is addressed
on intellectual, moral and political grounds, it may remain tough to exit from
the rat race of market-driven world of consumption and production.
Markets, the Skidelsky’s argue, were made for man and not man for the
markets. Economics, as reflected in gross domestic product, ought to be
impregnated with purpose if markets have to work for man. For markets to remain
obedient to human needs and not greed, the world would need to invent social and
economic policies which reduce the amount of work necessary to achieve the
material requisites of well-being. This may not be utopian proposition if we
agree that the greatest waste now confronting mankind is not one of money but of
The Skidelsky’s end their scholarly work, which challenges the free market
fundamentalism, by quoting Keynes: ‘Once we allow ourselves to be disobedient to
the test of an accountant’s profit we would have begun to change our
civilisation’. And the time for such a change is overdue.
How much is enough?
by Robert & Edward Skidelsky
Allen Lane, London
243 pages, £ 20