I have devoted a considerable amount of time and thought to this book over the past weeks. I am intrigued by it, and admire it, but I also find I am not satisfied with it. In pondering why this is so, I have come to the conclusion that, like many books of its type, it describes the problem it identifies very well, but falls short when proposing a solution to it. And I have a hunch that the authors realize this, otherwise we wouldn't see so many references for the need for faith and the need for optimism.
First, though, a secondary point. The authors assert that rich countries now have sufficient wealth that everyone living in them could afford to stop the ceaseless quest for more, if this wealth was properly distributed. I would like to see this assertion expanded upon with more facts, and with a hypothetical model to demonstrate it. While no reasonable person expects, say, a neurosurgeon to receive the same wage as someone collecting money in a parking booth, what would the base level of income available be at some reasonable range of compensation, as compared to the vilely unfair pattern we have today?
If indeed this calculation is convincing, the implementation of a guaranteed annual income via the income tax system would be simplicity itself, and in fact the cost savings from elimination of a massive system of benefits administration might go a good distance towards paying for it. Certainly that well known pinko Richard Millhouse Nixon thought so, when he came close to implementing such a scheme, as is described by the late Senator Daniel Moynihan: The Politics of a Guaranteed Income: The Nixon Administration and the Family Assistance Plan (1973) ISBN 0-394-46354-4.
But to get back to my dissatisfaction. I believe this much is well proven in the book: The everlasting and insatiable pursuit of more and more is pointless and senseless, as well as damaging to the world and to human society. The authors also demonstrate conclusively that worshiping this pursuit is peculiar to modern capitalist society: It wasn't that long ago that avarice was universally considered a sin.
They also explain how the modern theological class, also known as economists, have hugely aided and abetted this development. By making self interest the sole rational motive for human behavior, they have licensed the psychopaths among us to behave just as they wish, and these creatures have taken full advantage of this. For those unfamiliar with psychopathy, I recommend Without Conscience and Snakes in Suits, both by Robert Hare. A psychopath is someone who is utterly selfish, has a strong sense of entitlement, is highly manipulative, has no conscience, lies for fun, and leaves a broad trail of misery behind him wherever he goes. Sounds like a Wall Street banker, doesn't it?
My problem is that their solution, which in essence is to attempt to substitute the greed ethic with a better one, doesn't seem likely to me to work. While wider acceptance of a compassionate moral system would probably help, calls for compassion are not likely to affect your average psychopath. And make no mistake that it is the psychopaths, the evil people, that we have to deal with. They tend to rise to the top of power structures (much easier when you don't have a conscience) and are clearly in control now, as they have been for most of human history. As someone once said, great men are almost always bad men.
The way that this was done in the recent past was to withdraw labour, which the powerful needed the rest of us to provide. This is less and less true as time goes by, diminished by automation and by offshoring.
What we still provide that they need is consumption. If a way could be found to withdraw consumption from psychopathic individuals, companies, and industries, this could be an effective check. And there is a possible way to do this. Already there is an Iphone and Web application called the Good Guide ([...]) which rates products based on their impact on health, the environment, and society. This could be suitably expanded and refined by crowdsourcing. The major problem with it would be to stop it from being "gamed", as so many of the Internet rating services now are by the burgeoning Web Presence industry.