Affluenza: The All Consuming Epidemic by John de Graaf

John de Graaf’s well researched and eye-opening book “Affluenza: The All Consuming Epidemic” brings up several issues ailing contemporary industrial society, such as deceptive mass advertisements, over-population, environment damaging toxic dumping, corporate greed, etc. Of these, Corporate America has been chosen as the topic for this paper. The United States of America, being the world’s largest economy and the world’s only military superpower, can virtually dictate terms of trade for the rest of the world. And being the torch bearer of unfettered laissez faire capitalism, American business interests often dictate government policy decisions. This heady mix of wealth and power need to be counterbalanced by accountability and responsibility for the general public. But, going by the evidence presented by de Graaf in his book, the outcomes so far have been harmful for the people at large and the environment in which they live. In this context, one can understand the importance of the topic of Corporate America and its role in promoting a regressive consumerist culture. The following passages will cite pertaining arguments from other scholarly sources that hold relevance to John de Graaf’s thesis.

In the journal article titled ‘The effects of Corporate Social Responsibility and price on Consumer Responses’, authors L.A.Mohn and D.J.Webb adopt a quantitative as well as qualitative research methodology to arrive at their conclusions. They found that contrary to conventional beliefs about corporate social responsibility (CSR), it can actually boost the bottom line of the business. In other words, when the authors manipulated CSR and price across two dimensions namely that of philanthropy and environment, they found that “corporate social responsibility in both domains had a positive impact on evaluation of the company and purchase intent” (Mohr & Webb, p.125). Moreover, in the area of environment preservation, CSR had a stronger influence on consumer decisions than did the pricing. This finding should come as a relief for American corporate executives, who are forever preoccupied with the immediate financial performance. They can now act with conviction that setting long-term goals toward creating a better environment and practicing socially responsible business practices will help make their business sustainable and profitable in the long run (Mohr & Webb, p.132). This central point of this journal article serves as a solution to some of the harmful trends mentioned by John de Graaf in his book Affluenza: The All Consuming Epidemic.

In the very first chapter of the book Affluenza…the authors present some revealing statistics on American consumerism, especially the shopping spree preceding the holiday season. For instance, according to the National Retail Foundation, in 1999 alone, “Americans spent nearly $200 billion on holiday gifts, more than $850 per consumer. Affluenza season, the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas, generated twenty-five percent of all retail profits” (de Graaf, p.12). The authors further point out that

”Most Americans tell pollsters they want less emphasis on holiday spending and gift-giving. A third cannot even remember what they gave their significant other the previous year, and many cannot pay off their Christmas debts until the following summer, if then. Yet the urge to splurge continues to surge. It’s as if we Americans, despite our intentions, suffer from some kind of Willpower Deficiency Syndrome, a breakdown in affluenza immunity” (de Graaf, p.21)

Hence, it becomes evident how American cultural values have gradually changed since the end of the Second World War. Since then, America has been a world superpower and its citizens have been big consumers of world’s resources. Americans now spend close to $6 trillion on consumer goods, which account for 60 percent of the economy. More significantly, the goods being consumed are not ‘essentials’. The Public Relations industry works hand in hand with Corporate America in creating artificial material wants among potential consumers. It is a sad state of affairs indeed.

In the book Corporate America and Environment Policy, written by Sheldon Kamieniecki, we find that the negative consequences to the environment as a result of corporate lobbying are overstated. A major conclusion of this book is that the policy initiatives that come out of this process are generally quite complex; and simply pointing the finger at Corporate America for government’s failures on the environment front is unfair (Kamieniecki, p.124). When the author conducted an objective analysis of the available data, he further found that

“Business interests do not participate in environmental policy debates at a high rate, and when they do, they have mixed success in influencing policy outcomes. These results generally hold when one examines agenda building in Congress, agency rulemaking, and, to some extent, the courts. Analyses of salient conflicts involving pollution control and natural resources also tend to bear this out. Business interests, instead, appear to select strategically the controversies in which they become involved and how much money they spend on lobbying activities of various kinds” (Kamieniecki, p.124)

Works Cited:

Mohr, Lois A.; Webb, Deborah J., The effects of corporate social responsibility and price on consumer responses, The Journal of Consumer Affairs, Volume 39, Number 1, April 2005, pp. 121-147(27)

de Graaf, Wann, Naylor, Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2001, 275 pages, ISBN-10: 1576751511, ISBN-13: 9781576751510

Kamieniecki, Sheldon, Corporate America and Environmental Policy: How Often Does Business Get Its Way? Stanford University Press, 2006, ISBN 0804748322, 9780804748322, 327 pages