To the Editor:
The article "In Praise of Leisure" (The Chronicle Review, June 18), by Robert and Edward Skidelsky, offers by far one of the most original long-term visions for our economy after the crisis. The authors propose that our economic activity, and therefore economic growth, should be restricted in favor of what they define as "good life," or well-being. They see leisure as the most important constituent of good life.
The most intriguing aspect of the article is that its main argument ends up in a paradox. They seek to restrict our economic growth by limiting the demand. However, their proposal to make activities we like to do the central organizing principle for our economy may very well create pressure for economic growth.
Although the authors fail to control their argument, this failure is not unproductive. They broaden the concept of need to what is distinctly human in all of us—our infinite capacity to construct knowledge and to shape and reshape reality.
Although unanticipated by the authors, their proposal offers many economic advantages. Making production of knowledge central to our economy creates a potential for infinite demand, infinite productivity, and infinite efficiency. Thus this approach may very well help solve the problems of demand, production, and efficiency that have traditionally plagued our economy.
Professor of History
"Why, despite the surprising accuracy of his growth forecasts, are most of us, almost 100 years on, still working about as hard as we were when John Maynard Keynes wrote his futuristic essay?"
Oh, come now! You (and I) get paid for writing essays in a comfortable office with a high-powered word processor, while an espresso machine perks away in the corner. We can get up at any moment and stroll around. There is simply no comparison with the arduous daily grind carried out by the agricultural laborers, factory workers, and household servants who made up the majority of workers in 1912. We may still spend the same number of hours "at work," but the conditions under which we work are immeasurably better for nearly all of us.
I can't say I'm persuaded, and not just because of the superabundance of quotes which you seem to think fill in the gaps of the argument, or the fact that this is a pale retread of select Plato and Aristotle without the context of their ethics, or the passive swipes at easy targets.
Don't you think advocating the good life and living it joyfully will promote it better than ivory tower finger-wagging? Or developing a philosophy based on values? No, better to write a quasi-scholarly parade of quotations to sell your book in the hope that it competes with Michael Sandel's equally flatulent book, which just beat you to press.
I'm willing to believe your book is better than this, but who would buy it after such a poor précis? I would rather reread Josef Pieper's Leisure: The Basis of Culture, which beat you to press by 64 years and deals systematically with actual concepts and philosophy.
I started reading the article and then decided it was too long and life is short, so I went off to do jigsaw puzzles with my daughter.
Robert Oscar Lopez