5 October 2011

Big Ideas on Money

Being detached from academia (amongst other things) I had no idea who the Big Ideas speaker on How Much Money Do We Need To Lead A Good Life? was but I was assured when sitting in an almost empty room beforehand that he was a big draw.

And so he proved to be. The room was as full as I have ever seen it and comfortably exceeded any reasonable fire limit that might apply to it.

The speaker was introduced to us as Robert Skidelsky, Emeritus Professor of Political Economy at the University of Warwick, which enlightened me not a whit.

I deliberately sat at a table I'd not sat at before (the antithesis of Kermit's nephew) more or less in the middle of the room which was great for the talk and the subsequent debate but not so good for photography so you are spared the traditional picture of the bay window at The Wheatshef.

Robert Skidelsky started the evenings' discussion by outlining the arguments in a new book that he had just finished writing with his son.

The main point seemed to be that the love of money differs from other wants in needs in that it is finite whereas there are limits to, for example, how much you can eat. As a consequence we have Avarice and measures need to be taken to address this.

I felt that the argument fell at the first fence, and said so in the debate. Biological needs (food, drink, warmth, sex, etc.) are finite because they are immediate but the wish for money addresses future needs to food, drink, etc. and so has no limit.

Other people also questioned Avarice as more and more groups, e.g. the people in the room, were excluded from those considered avaricious.

In the debate we spent some time exploring whether Fear was more of a factor that Avarice, i.e. do some people work longer and harder because they want more money or are they just scared that they will lose their jobs if they don't. My vote goes for Fear.

I had problems with some of the proposed solutions too, such as unimposable rules on restricting advertising and unworkable nudges.

My mood on the evening can be gauged by my tweets:
  • Ten minutes in brings the first reference to Marx. #bigideas
  • Biological needs are now and finite (even sex) but money is future and insatiable. #bigideas
  • Poor analysis names Avarice as the guilty party and the subsequent arguments fail on this false premis. #bigideas
  • And now a plug for Nudge. This is an ill structured and inaccurate argument. Glad the Hobgoblin is on form. #bigideas
  • Claims that an insatiable desire for money is the problem then excludes many groups from having this. #fail #bigideas
  • Getting a bit heavy now with constant references to Aristotle, Plato, Hume, etc. #bigideas
  • The ghost of Stalin stalks the room. And not in a good way. #bigideas
The debate was lively and my assessment was that there were more debaters against the argument presented than for it but the speaker got a long and sincere round of applause when the more formal part of the evening and we were left to carry on the conversations by ourselves with just some more Hobgoblin to help.

I may not have been remotely convinced by the speaker's argument but it did trigger a good debate that I enjoyed being part of. That's why Big Ideas works.

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