This is an excerpt from my presentation at the European Economic Summit, Amsterdam September 7-9, 2016.
How Much is Enough?
How much is enough? This is a very easy question to ask but difficult to answer, but the answer, when found, will lead to the ability to realise the most important things in our lives.
The Greek philosopher Epicurus stated, “nothing is enough, for the man to whom enough is too little.” Contrast that with the well-known answer to our question from J.D. Rockefeller, which although stated over a hundred years ago seems to have characterized our capitalist system recently. When asked ‘how much is enough’ he stated ‘just a little bit more!’
In 2012 father and son Sidelsky write a much discussed book with the title, ‘How Much is Enough’ which was inspired by the 1930 essay by Keynes entitled “Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren,” in which he describes a moral economy, wherein we can ask ourselves the question, ‘How much is enough, what do we need money for?’ Keynes proposed the answer – “enough for living a good life.” Keynes maintained that by 2030, developed societies will be wealthy enough that leisure time, rather than work, will characterize national lifestyles. He uses a realistic estimate for growth — 2 percent per year — and pointed out that with that growth the “capital equipment” in the world would increase seven and a half times. With a world as wealthy as this, he said, “We shall do more things for ourselves than is usual with the rich to-day [sic], only too glad to have small duties and tasks and routines”
The Wall Street crash was still a year away when in 1928 John Maynard Keynes spoke to an audience of Cambridge undergraduates. The great economist told the students that by the time they were old men the big economic problems of the day would be solved. The capitalist system was capable of delivering such a sustained and steady increase in output that workers would eventually have all the material goods they could possibly want. They would need to toil for only 15 hours a week and could then spend the rest of the time enjoying themselves. I heard this again in the seventies, that with the development of technology, our work would become so efficient that we would enjoy a sea of spare time in which to enjoy our lives and that the 15-hour week would become reality.
The Sidelsky’s described 7 aspects of what Keynes called the good life: Health, security, respect, personality, free time, friendship and harmony. Interestingly, they did not include good work, which is essential for human creativity, productivity and dignity. However, if our question of enough is not answered, then Epicurus’ advice is also valid for work. If the question of enough is not answered, then no amount of work is enough and this seems to have negated Keyne’s prediction that we will have less need to work. Continue reading ‘How Much Is Enough?’