05/11/2012

How much is enough?

In his essay ‘Economic possibilities for our grandchildren’, in 1930, the British economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that within a century industrialized societies have progressed so far that its technological advances allow people to live comfortably, with little need for work, and that provide happiness.

Almost a century later and taking that essay as a starting point, Robert Skidelsky, economic historian and biographer reputed creator of Keynesianism, published with his son and philosopher Edward the book ‘How much is enough?’, which reflect on the current economic system and society away from the concept of ‘good life’, something that humans have tried profiling over time, from classical Greece to Christianity or Marxism.

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A few thousand US dollars

According to the book, strong progress and improvement in living conditions that followed World War II were twisted in the 80’s, when Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher set economic growth as an end in itself and not as a means of achieving the good life of the people. That growth indicator, which does not take into account other citizen concerns such as health, leisure or the environment, had a quick and decisive victory over the other end of the economy due to the dramatic increase in the standard of living of the decades of 60 and 70 and proximity to full employment in Western societies. ‘In these circumstances, the economic thought was free to concentrate on the efficiency of the production efficiency.’

The good life, as opposed to happiness (something private and psychological, not always connected to the living conditions), for Skidelsky is based on a number of basic elements that the state should promote, while it is for citizens to enjoy and develop full: health, security (physical or economic), respect, personality (freedom to act autonomously), harmony with nature, friendship (bond with others) and leisure (what is done for its own sake, not out of obligation or an end).

The authors are optimistic about the future. Faced with the confusion between need and desire that seems to dominate, proposed ethical renewal, more social policies and reducing the pressure to consume or altering advertising freedom to choose. They believe that we are now better prepared than ever for the good life: we are materially better than in the 30s and knowledge is accessible to many more people, two factors that combined with the ethical awakening can make this economic crisis could leave advanced societies in a better starting position than Keynes in 1930.