Affluenza: Causes

The second part of the book Affluenza considers the causes of the disease of consumerism. Honestly it seemed somewhat lacking in depth. This is a complicated issue. Consider simply the question “What are the causes of poverty?” Books upon books have been written trying to describe the causes of one of the symptoms of our consumer society, economic inequality. Yet we seem no closer to a consensus.

What about the debt culture in North America? Some blame consumer behavior that fuels this spiral. Others blame the banks and corporations that advertise and offer these products. Still others blame government laws and regulations that permit and even incentive these kinds of products and consumer behavior that stimulates our growth economy. Certainly the cause lies somewhere in the convergence of these three culprits. Has this gotten us any closer really to understanding the causes of affluenza?

But industrial leaders in the 1920s had their own religion, the gospel of consumption. A reduction in working hours, they believed, might bring the whole capitalist system to its knees. Increased leisure, Harvard economist Thomas Carver Nixon warned, was bad for business: “There is no reason to believe that more leisure would ever increase the desire for goods…If it should result in more gardening, more work around the home in making or repairing furniture, painting and repairing the house and other useful avocations, it would cut down the demand for the products of our wage paying industries.” (142-143)

The answer to the causes of the disease of affluenza, I believe, lies in a deeper understanding of the system itself. The authors of the book sometimes drop the metaphor of disease for my preferred metaphor of religion. I wonder if it has any more explanatory power than the metaphor of disease. In terms of causes it might help reveal underlying motivating factors embedded in the system. The point I take home from this quote and others from advertising executives is that the idea that problems we face are inherent in the system. In order to deal with the problems we are encountering in terms of poverty, resource exhaustion, rates of stress, anxiety, depression and suicide, climate change, etc., we must face the fact that the system is designed to get exactly these results.

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