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Much work to do to achieve Utopia

The Life: In "How Much is Enough?: Money and the Good Life", two eminent British academics try to figure out an acceptable level of wealth to be able to enjoy life.

Book review: How Much is Enough?: Money and the Good Life

To the legions of expatriates toiling away in banks, law firms and construction sites in the UAE, the idea of being able to work a 15-hour week and live in financial comfort sounds a little far-fetched.

Perhaps only with a well-placed family connection could a contemporary job-seeker hope to achieve such a leisurely schedule.

But why not, when modern technology allows it? That is the questionHow Much is Enough?: Money and the Good Life seeks to answer.

Written by Lord Robert Skidelsky and his son Edward, the book takes its starting point from a essay published in 1930 by the British economist John Maynard Keynes, who predicted the technological advances of the 20th century would erode the need for work almost completely.

Keynes speculated that within 100 years of writing - by 2030 -mankind would have done away with the need for labour, working only when desired and whiling away the rest of the time on flights of fancy.

Where did it all go wrong?

The authors find many villains, including market fundamentalism, the former US president Ronald Reagan, the one-time UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher and an overabundance of advertising.

But they also lambast modern capitalism for abandoning its mission to improve the lot of humanity.

And the writers point to a persistent inability for people to say enough is enough.

Unusually for a commentary on what is a problem for developed economies, the authors also take examples from the UAE - where displays of excessive wealth are hardly scarce, as one can see on a drive down the Sheikh Zayed Road.

The book offers articulate - though sparing - critiques of the UAE's social contract, which does not seem to have eliminated the desire for bigger, better, flashier things.

The authors frequently come across as more at home reclining on a chaise longue being fed grapes than formulating macro-economic policy and their proposals for policymakers smack of ivory-tower naivety.

And the broader argument also seems at times to traipse about endlessly in a search of a moral high ground from which to view the West's economic decline.

But they nevertheless present a predicament for developed countries and those that would seek to emulate them.

Alas, the question of the book's title is one that our materialistic, overleveraged generation is ill-equipped to answer.

ghunter@thenational.ae

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