Capitalism and Human Values by Tony Wilkinson

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Capitalism and Human Values by Tony Wilkinson

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Category: Politics and Society
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: An in-depth look at the basis of our values and how they impact on capitalism. A demanding read but worth persevering with as parts are gold dust.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 220 Date: July 2015
Publisher: Imprint Academic
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1845407889

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Tony Wilkinson has a first class honours degree in philosophy and has worked in government service and investment management - the ideal background for a consideration of capitalism and the human values which propel it. It's not too long ago - certainly within my lifetime - that religion largely dictated the values held by individuals, but true religious belief now seems to be the exception rather than the rule. In its place we have a society for whom consumerism is the driving force - and a widening gap between those who can afford to consume and those who cannot. As Wilkinson says Getting and spending have come to define who we are.

I've done rather well out of a capitalist society: I have not just achieved a sufficiency of assets but a surplus which allows me to help others now and to plan how I can do so in the future. I continue to work because I enjoy it. I am very fortunate - and fortunately without expensive vices - but I am conscious that I live in a society where an embarrassingly large number of people struggle to have a sufficiency even with more modest needs than mine. I wanted to have my mind pushed into corners not previously visited to reconcile my guilt with the needs of others and I was nudged in the direction of Capitalism and Human Values.

I'll confess that initially I was disappointed as I expected the book to be more about capitalism (I've obviously been reading too many lists on food packaging where the major ingredients are listed first!) and we're some way into the book before it really gets a mention. I was convinced too that in the absence of any religious belief my conscience would dictate my actions and that this required no more thought, but as I read I realised that this was a simplistic approach. Wilkinson delves deep into the basis of our values, distinguishing them from laws and rights (including moral and human) and looks at the theory that values are simply based on individual preferences. I found this part of the book the most challenging, but ultimately rewarding.

Firmer ground appeared for me when we looked at a foundation for values, building up from our central goal and the conditions which help to test any proposed central goal and culminating in the concept of achieving 'satisfied mind' and the skills which we would require to do so. To me this part was gold dust with clear accessible reasoning which took me through ideas which resonated and provided a basis on which I could - with practice - develop my values. I've read these sections several times and envisage going back to them in future. I'm conscious of having skimmed over a substantial part of the book here, but it is really something which you should read and consider yourself. It's very much worth the effort and provides a basis for values which need not be simply personal.

As for Wilkinson's conclusions on capitalism, I broadly agreed with his view that it has distinct advantages and that the alternatives could not deliver the prosperity which a good percentage of the population enjoys. He attempts to bust the myth that there's a 'law of the jungle' in capitalism and that competitors don't attempt to destroy each other: I wasn't completely convinced by this. On the other hand I particularly liked his view that [c]apitalism on its own is not enough and that the values of 'satisfied mind' need to provide another leg for it to stand on.

I didn't find the book to be an easy read, but then it wouldn't have done its job if it had been. It's a wake-up call that somewhere along the line our basic values have been corroded if not lost altogether and I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

Imprint Academic is - as the name suggests - a publisher of academic texts but it's a mistake to think that they're limited in their readership. Here at Bookbag we can recommend A Scientist in Wonderland: A Memoir of Searching for Truth and Finding Trouble by Edzard Ernst and There Is No Such Thing As A Free Press by Mick Hume.

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Buy Capitalism and Human Values by Tony Wilkinson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Capitalism and Human Values by Tony Wilkinson at


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