If any one doubts that the sly brilliance and sideways glancing insight of Bernard Mandeville's books has left them, even at this date, three hundred years after their publication, uncomfortably warm to the touch, they should read Skidelsky and Skidelsky's treatment in their rigoristic and sincerely puritan tract, How Much is Enough? (Allen Lane: London, 2012). (In case you are wondering, the answer is 'Whenever the Saved cry Stop!')

Mandeville, one of the finest naturalistic observers of human behaviour ever to have graced our language is dismissed in one line as a 'scribbler', and then in the next crowned with thorns as the 'Machiavelli of economics'. When a book harbours such conflicting views we can be sure that a nerve has been touched; and Bernard Mandeville MD knew of all the most sensitive spots in the hypochondriacal well-wisher, with the consequence that the pained reaction is strong beyond concealment; Mandeville is bad, bad, bad in both ways, a hack, a part-time writer of doggerel (actually capable Hudibrastics; but economists and philosophers cannot be expected to know such things), and he's wicked too, an eponymous Devil of a man, a cavalier and satirical malcontent, perhaps a Satanist, certainly a cynic.

And yet, as S&S themselves allow, for they are decent souls in spite of being an economic Lord's Day Observance Society, Mandeville is to his great honour and extensive credit, a thinker who takes and considers men and women as they are and not as finger-waggers would have them be.

Nevertheless, S&S ignore his views, as perhaps they must; for if Mandeville is right (and he is) then their recommendation for placing limits on consumption would not only make all mankind virtuous by curbing the boundless flight of a hook-billed psyche whose wings though viewless are forged by nature not the angels, but would also, in the same sermonising breath, make it grindingly poor, with even the humblest desires unfulfilled. If you are 'for honesty', and S&S most certainly are, then you must be 'for acorns' too. However, Skidelsky and Skidelsky say you may have a certain number of grams of quite nice cake. That is mistaken. Acorns it is, and Dr Mandeville retains his position.