My rating: 4 of 5 stars
“Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need.”*
Richard Denniss’ Curing Affluenza seeks to define the problems our current consumerist society has and how to address it. He posits that we need to abandon consumerism and opt instead for materialism if we have any chance of changing the shape of our economy, which will, in turn, allow us to address issues like climate change and environmental degradation.
For many years now I’ve been a fan of Richard and The Australia Institute’s work. He and they manage to talk economics without making it feel like you’ve been hit with a brick made of buzzwords.** As such, this book has been on my TBR pile since its release. It has not disappointed.
Richard makes his arguments simply and clearly, in a way that make sense. Even if you disagree with him politically, you would have to agree with his points about economics and politics being about choosing a shape for the economy – the shape being what we choose to spend money on and value. You may argue that we need more spending on tanks and less on healthcare, which has a different shape than an economy where I want fewer tanks and more healthcare. This also applies to our purchases; so if I’m buying tickets to see bands play live rather than upgrading my phone every 6 months, the economy changes shape.
On the Affluenza front, Richard suggests 7 principles for tackling it:
1) First, do no harm.
Think of this as consumer boycotts and active decisions about consumer/lifestyle choices.
2) Some change is better than no change.
Baby steps. It isn’t possible to stick 100% to #1, and larger changes may take longer.
3) It’s not about sacrifice and denial; it’s about saving money and having a better life.
We’re trying to change the shape of the economy, not become monks.
4) Services are good for you.
status symbol phone or see a live music act? Stuff doesn’t make you happy but experiences do, and they help change the economy’s shape.
5) When you are full, stop consuming.
Because there is such a thing as too many books… Wait, what?
6) Get yourself and your country into better shape.
Our saving and spending, especially when organised with others, can reshape the economy.
7) Flatter is fairer.
Equality of resources and opportunity for all. I.e. redistribution.
Whilst this was a very good book, I did have two problems with it. The first issue was that the middle chapters labour the point, so much so that it felt like needless padding. This was frustrating because as someone who has read various articles and essays from Richard before, I know he can be very concise. It also didn’t help that I was already familiar with what he was trying to argue and the examples used. Though, this may be from that familiarity, so others may appreciate these chapters more.
The second issue was that Richard was largely dismissive of options that didn’t involve capitalism. There was a big assumption that we still need/want capitalism and thus should be reforming/tinkering with it. This assumption was never examined nor justified adequately. It would have been nice to see some discussion addressing those other options, especially in a pros and cons manner.***
* Quote is obviously from Fight Club and not this book. I’m almost certain that Richard is not advocating young men beat each other up and try to destroy capitalism.
** Richard appropriately calls the indecipherable economics talk Econobabble.
*** Richard responded to this point on Twitter. He felt it was outside of the scope of the book and would have muddied the message. I think that is a fair point.