Thursday, June 11, 2015

Economic Insatiability Rooted in Human Nature

Leland, Michigan

I picked up the Skidelsky's book How Much Is Enough? Money and the Good Life when it came out, on the recommendation of philosopher Michael Ruse (by political economist Robert and philosopher Edward Skidelsky). I'll be speaking at a conference this summer on God and Money, so tonight I picked it up again and began a re-read.

This book is so good! Listen to these quotes from the beginning.

  • "This book is an argument against insatiability." (3) "Insatiability" is the desire for more and more money.
  • Insatiability is a problem for this world's poor, "where the mass of the people still live in great poverty." (Ib.)
  • "In rich and poor societies alike, insatiability can be seen wherever the opulence of the very rich runs wildly ahead of the means of existence of the many." (Ib.)
  • What is the root of economic insatiability? What is the source of this incessant desire for more? The Skidelsky's write: "Our own view is that it is rooted in human nature— in the disposition to compare our fortune with that of our fellows and find it wanting— but has been greatly intensified by capitalism, which has made it the psychological basis of an entire civilization. What was once an aberration of the rich is now a commonplace of everyday life." (Ib.)
Forget for the moment the heretical teachings of some Christians that Jesus has come to make you wealthy (the "prosperity gospel," which is the false gospel). Think of what Jesus really said about money. It jives with the Skidelsky's ideas. Now I know why I am reading it again.

"Making money cannot be an end in itself— at least for anyone not suffering from acute mental disorder. To say that my purpose in life is to make more and more money is like saying that my aim in eating is to get fatter and fatter. And what is true of individuals is also true of societies. Making money cannot be the permanent business of humanity, for the simple reason that there is nothing to do with money except spend it." (5)

"Our deeper objection to endless [economic] growth is that it is senseless." (7)

"The unending pursuit of wealth is madness." (Ib.) The Skidelsky's argue for this in chapters 4 and 5.

"If the ultimate end of industry is idleness, if we labor and create merely so that our descendants can snuggle down to an eternity of daytime television, then all progress is, as Orwell put it, “a frantic struggle towards an objective which [we] hope and pray will never be reached.”" (10)

One more for now...

"We are condemned to dearth, not through want of resources, but by the extravagance of our appetites. As the economist Harry Johnson put it in 1960, “we live in a rich society, which nevertheless in many respects insists on thinking and acting as if it were a poor society.” The perspective of poverty, and with it an emphasis on efficiency at all costs, is built into modern economics." (12)