You Can't Buy Happiness

Article excerpt

Byline: ANDREW NEATHER

HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH: THE LOVE OF MONEY AND THE CASE FOR THE GOOD LIFE by Robert and Edward Skidelsky (Allen Lane, [pounds sterling]20) MAJOR economic crises tend to R provoke reconsideration of the principles of capitalism, of the economic lives we lead. So it was that back in the teeth of another recession, in 1930, John Maynard Keynes struck a defiantly optimistic note in a short essay entitled Economic Possibilities for f Our Grandchildren.

The great economist predicted that by 2030 the world's developed countries would be so rich that people would have to work just 15 hours a week. Humans would devote most of their time to leisure and most work would be done by machines. This, he believed, would prompt a fundamental shift in our values: "We shall once more value ends above means and prefer the good to the useful."

How could he have got it so wrong? And do we now need to rethink our economic values? That is the question which Keynes's biographer Robert Skidelsky, and his philosopher son Edward, examine here.

On the face of it their thesis is a truism: that the endless pursuit of money is a blind alley that does not lead to the good life. When asked how rich they want to be, most people will say something on the lines of "enough to live a good life". Indeed even David Cameron has pronounced himself dissatisfied with GDP as the sole barometer of the nation's wealth: this month the Office for National Statistics will publish the first official survey of our national wellbeing.

And yet we still chase after money and consumer goodies. The problem isn't just our difficulty in saying "that's enough". Rather, the Skidelskys write, "the material conditions of the good life already exist, at least in affluent parts of the world, but the blind pursuit of growth puts it continually out of reach". Surveys of Britons' happiness show little real change since the mid-1970s despite a far bigger economy and much greater affluence today. …