Listen up, Americans. Listen up, citizens of the world’s advanced economies.
Stop. Just stop it.
You’re rich enough. Well, at least a good chunk of you are. Time to take it easy. Forget your life’s work,even if it brings you deep satisfaction. Forget about innovating and producing more with less.
You’re really just wage slaves, laboring automatons persuaded by slick advertising that you want that new iPad or iPhone. A job is just a way to afford more consumption of stuff you don’t really want and sure don’t really need. Nothing more.
But enough of my exhortations, British historian and John Maynard Keynes biographer Robert Skidelsky says it so much better today in the Financial Times:
So what is to be done? First, we must convince ourselves that there is something called the good life, and that money is simply a means to it. To say that my purpose in life is to make more and more money is as insane as saying my purpose in eating is to get fatter and fatter. But second, there are measures we can take collectively to nudge us off the consumption treadmill.
One is to improve job security. Government should restore the full employment guarantee. This does not mean guaranteeing everyone a 40-hour a week job. Government should gradually reduce the maximum allowable hours of work for most occupations, guaranteeing a job for everyone who wants to work that amount of time.
At the same time it should institute an unconditional basic income for all citizens. This would aim to improve the choice between work and leisure. Critics say this would be a disincentive to work. That is precisely its merit in a society which should be working less and enjoying life more.
Third, government should reduce the pressure to consume by curbs on advertising. We already have curbs to guard against specific harms: it would not be a big jump to recognise that excessive consumption is itself harmful – to the environment, to contentment, to any mature conception of the good life.
Underpinning these measures would be a steeply progressive consumption tax, with a top bracket of, say, 75 per cent. This would be a tax on what is spent, not on earnings. It would reduce the pressure to consume, finance basic income, and encourage private saving for old age and infirmity.
Wow. In just a few short paragraphs, Skidelsky advocates frightening new limits on economic and political freedom so that we could all be “happier” — with happiness defined by Skidelsky himself. This might be the worst FT op-ed I’ve ever read.