How much is enough?

Gary Gutting writes:

Is capitalism an enemy of the good life? Marxists and other radicals think so. Toward the end of How Much Is Enough?, Robert and Edward Skidelsky (an economist father and his philosopher son) quote one such thinker:

Working men have been surrendered, isolated and helpless, to the hard-heartedness of employers and the greed of unchecked competition…so that a small number of very rich men have been able to lay upon the teeming masses of the laboring poor a yoke little better than that of slavery.

Readers of Commonweal will be more likely than most to recognize the firebrand cited as Leo XIII in Rerum novarum.

The Skidelskys’ conclusion, as Gutting summarizes it in his review for Commonweal, is:

We need capitalism because no other economic system can produce sufficient goods to meet our essential material needs such as food, shelter, clothes, and medical care. But these goods are not enough. A good life mainly depends on intangibles such as love, friendship, beauty, and virtue—things capitalism cannot produce and money cannot buy. Given a sufficient minimum of material goods, the good life does not depend on the world of commerce.

The question for me is less whether people are overcome by greed and seek more than they need, but whether achieving and maintaining one’s place in the world now absorbs so much time and energy that people are unable to cultivate other virtues.

The review is deep and complex and deserves to be read in full.

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