A provocative and articulate discourse on the dismal science and moral philosophy.
Eminent economic historian Robert Skidelsky (Political Economy Emeritus/Univ. of Warwick; Keynes: The Return of the Master, 2009, etc.) and his philosopher son Edward (Moral and Political Philosophy/Exeter Univ.) recall when John Maynard Keynes predicted that, in his grandchildren’s days, no one would need to work much more than a few hours a week to satisfy our shared human needs. As the great economist expected, production soared, but work increased as well. What happened to the dream of Keynes? Though he thought needs were finite, the sought-after good life expanded. Needs may be satisfied, but not wants or the insatiable desire for more. In seeking to find suitable goods for the blissful life, the authors conflate economic theory with philosophy. They cite Marx and Marcuse, Aristotle and Adam Smith, happiness economists and ecological economists, the dharma sutra and story of Faust. In sum, they posit certain requirements: health, security, respect, individuality, harmony with nature, friendship and leisure. Individually and as a society, we should value these, not perpetual growth. With a statement likely to attract notice, the Skidelskys write, “the capitalist system in our part of the world is entering its degenerative phase.” As an alternative to avarice and excess, the authors propose “non-coercive paternalism,” including basic income payments to all (as in Alaska), reduction of advertising (how else would we choose our presidents?), a graduated use tax and, possibly, some sumptuary laws.
Not for libertarians or the Fox News crowd, but the authors deliver powerful, timely material for Wall Street occupiers, public intellectuals, policy wonks and op-ed columnists.