In Robert Skidelsky’s Econtalk interview, he mentions that we get restless if we have nothing to do, and there’s a certain amount of insatiability that appears built into the human condition. He’s referencing money, but it made me realize something: academics and intellectuals are restless and insatiable too, but they don’t use conventional currency: they use citation counts and perceived intellectual influence. They aren’t (mostly) acquisitively forward-looking, but they are interested in writing more and more, in order to have a greater and greater reputation.
Skidelsky’s most recent book is How Much is Enough?: Money and the Good Life, and in it he evidently discusses the idea of material good saturation, which is, I suspect, a topic that’s going to become more and more interesting over the course of my life. Most of us, as he points out and he points out that Keynes pointed out, reach a point of diminishing returns when it comes to goods and many other things: having a working car is very valuable to many of us, but having a $100,000 car is less so. Having a computer is very valuable, but having the latest model is less so. But we’re still working quite hard for goods that might not be valuable enough.
I leave it to the reader’s imagination to apply how the previous paragraph might be applied to academics or intellectuals, for whom it seems there is never enough respect go around.
Skidelsky’s point about work is especially interesting to me because I’m a person who has been working, so to speak, to make the kind of “work” that I do fun—at which point it’s not really onerous. I wonder if that kind of move is the future of work. We also get a certain amount of satisfaction from doing a thing well, and perhaps that will drive us, collectively, even in the face of not needing to do certain things to the extent that we need to do them now.