Allen Lane £20

How Much Is Enough?: The Love of Money, and the Case for a Good Life, By Robert Skidelsky and Edward Skidelsky

All work and no play makes the world a poorer place

A colonel, asked why Indonesia's army was loyal to the corrupt Suharto regime for 30 years, only to turn against him in the dying days, explained it simply. During much of Suharto's rule, families would see their meagre bowls of rice increase by a few grains every week, just enough for contentment. But when the amount of rice diminished, they looked up from their bowls and saw the regime for what it was: corrupt and self-serving. The army followed the people and Suharto was overthrown.

How Much is Enough?, by the economist Robert Skidelsky and his philosopher son Edward, arrives at a similar inflexion in Western history. After decades of content in Europe and the US, the rolling financial crises of the past five years have finally forced us to look up and inquire where it all went wrong.

The Skidelskys follow a long line of people who have tried to find the line between enough and excess. Alfred Marshall, an economist contemporary of John Maynard Keynes, decided that £500 a year would do. The novelist Virginia Woolf concurred, in 1929, though she also wanted a room of her own. Aristotle asked what was enough when he thought about what one needs to live "a good life". Elements of fine character, he said, but not material wants above basic needs.

But Aristotle did not have to contend with a consumer society in which the difference between the two is blurred, or the relentless push for growth in modern economics which makes money an aim in itself.

In the 1930s, Keynes (of whom Robert Skidelsky is also a biographer) predicted that wealth would rise to such a level within 100 years that we would choose to work only 15 hours a week. But in order to achieve this, the economy needed to grow, and for that, industry needed to be stoked by the desire of people to better themselves. The economist assumed a plateau would be reached, a sort of utopian state at which desires would be stated by abundance. However, as data on inequality has shown, even those who have arrived at the upper reaches of wealth then seek to acquire money for its own sake. As the Texan oil tycoon H L Hunt said, money becomes "just a way of keeping score".

The central problem of capitalism, missed by Keynes, is that it requires the hunger for more to drive it forwards. There can never be enough.

If the pursuit of money doesn't lead to contentment, there must be other paths. The authors propose seven optimistic alternatives for a modern good life, using health, security, respect, personality, harmony with nature, friendship, and leisure as their parameters. There are a few specific suggestions, such as restrictions on advertising, and consumption taxes that don't penalise the poor, but both authors recognise that using regulation to coerce change is not in the spirit of their project.

The Skidelskys are not alone in worrying, now that the bowl of rice has diminished, about what money has done to the soul. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, mentioned their book in his Easter sermon, along with the US political philosopher Michael Sandel's What Money Can't Buy. But while the question may be pertinent now, the real challenge for Williams and the Skidelskys will be to keep it alive when the good times return.

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year


Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk