Monday, 28 July 2008

Affluenza by Oliver James

Affluenza by Oliver James is not really a book, it more like a collection of short stories and emotional outbursts (that are structured in a good way). The format is not my favorite and I think the book could have been 50 pages instead of 500 pages (but I know that people love reading about other people in a ‘gossip format’ and if this tabloid strategy make more people read this is might be worth the prize). Among the 500 pages there are enough interesting observations and concrete suggestions to make it a worthwhile reading exercise. To have concrete suggestions is very rare and something that makes the book more interesting than 95% of the books out there “only observing” the state of society.

The main argument in the book is that we now have a society, that is spreading globally, that only wants “simple satisfaction”. This global hunt for more is not only destroying the planet it is making many of us feel bad. It is not just the occasional day when people feel “down”, but something much deeper that is going on. James travels around the world to meet different people and use their stories to discuss different aspects of “Affluenza”.

The end result is not too far from Kalle Lasn and Adbusters, but James also add a little conservative touch by promoting more traditional family value.

The four root causes Oliver identifies are however structural and something that I think will be increasingly discussed the coming years.

1. Companies only looking at the share price
2. Privatization of public utilities
3. The belief that business need as little regulation as possible and that the rich don’t need to pay tax
4. The conviction that consumption and market forces can meet human needs of almost every kind.

To highlight these as (at least possible) fundamental challenges to our wellbeing, and at the same time also give concrete suggestions forward, is something more authors should try.