Review of ‘How Much is Enough? The Love of Money and the Case for the Good Life’

On the 17th January I attended a very sociable gathering at the Social Market Foundation for a ‘chalk and talk’ session by Lord Robert Skidelsky showcasing his new book (written with his son, Edward) “How Much is Enough? The Love of Money and the Case for the Good Life”, a book that I have been reading over the New Year festivities.

From the perspective of an adult educator there are two themes in the book that I am sure that ECA members will want to applaud warmly. Firstly, the Skidelskys take a very positive view of their fellow citizens. Far from believing that people if freed from the excessive burdens of work would simply lapse into drunkenness and debauchery they take a positive view of how people use their leisure time in a purposeful way. This chimes with the adult educator’s view of seeing the best potential in their fellows. Secondly, I know that his opinion that all education, including adult education should be a preparation for a wholesome life and not a narrow preparation for work alone. They argue strongly that ”leisure is the wellspring of higher thought and culture, for it is only when emancipated from the pressure of need that we really look at the world.”

This fairly short book covers our present ‘Faustian bargain’ where an addiction to growth blinds us to realising the ‘good life’ rather than simply piling up more and also is critical of the ‘mirage of happiness’ as too vague and elusive. I doubt that many ECA members would disagree with that.

The main section outlines the elements of the good life as health; security; respect; personality; harmony with nature; friendship and leisure. Where we might disagree is over the balance between ‘security’ and ‘freedom’ (this appears mainly under the heading of ‘personality’ in their list of the elements of the good life). For if we become too cosy mentally then we may lose our creativity and our drive to improve but then the Skidelskys would argue that physical and mental danger does undermine the capacity to learn.[1] I guess that, as with so many of these issues, it’s a matter of balance.

Members of the ECA will be particularly interested in the section on harmony with nature where this overlaps with our arguments on sustainable development. They are not impressed by the panic spread about the damage being done to the planet and ‘tipping points’ and less convinced by much of the argument about how much human beings and our pursuit of growth do real damage but they are open to say that they value nature not in its own right but as something that makes us feel better through our harmony with it – whether farming (but not factory farming) or conservation or relaxation. They call it ‘good life environmentalism’.

Overall, we can be reassured that respect is a major ingredient of the good life, which is based upon what you do and how you do it rather than how much you earn. That is a powerful argument for culture and education in its own right and perhaps it might inspire a revulsion of the old Learning and Skills Council assumption that has been driving up fees for informal adult education over the past decade and even make some policy-makers less dismissive of the value of 'real leisure'. Yet we too might be challenged to ponder “how much is enough” adult education and in these straitened times how much it should be a call on the public purse!

[1] ECA Chair & CEO Bernard Godding adds that some work on resilience to dangerous situations suggests that learning from dangerous events and using this experience to anticipate hazardous situations can have positive mental and physical results for individuals. It seems that the active planning of responses to potential negative events can give real personal satisfaction and also enhance the social standing of individuals quite outside the times when incidents may occur. Take for example volunteer training in first aid through St John's and Red Cross and the highly visible presence of those trained volunteers at public events.

Written by ECA Vice Chair Chris Minter

Date Added: January 21st 2013