John de Graaf and team’s well researched and eye-opening book “Affluenza: The All Consuming Epidemic” brings up several issues ailing contemporary industrial societies, such as deceptive mass advertisements, over-population, environment damaging toxic dumping, corporate greed, etc. Such lifestyle and social trends are no where more ostensible than in the United States of America. The USA, 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 the authors of this book, the outcomes so far have been harmful for the people at large and the environment in which they live. The poor people are especially badly hit by this phenomenon (de Graaf et. al, p.112). While the rich are getting richer than ever before, the real incomes of the poor in America have stagnated or declined. In this way the poor are disadvantaged twice, as the consumerist society keeps promoting ‘affluenza’. In this context, one can understand the importance of delving further into this topic and learn more about its role in promoting a regressive consumerist culture. The following passages will cite pertaining arguments from the book in support of the thesis, which is that the poor are punished twice as a result of Affluenza.
A major manifest symptom of Aflluenza, the authors point out, is the general decline in sense of self-worth among Americans. A culture that endlessly promotes materialism and accumulation of wealth with barely any mention of other aspects of healthy living such as harmonious family life, participation in communal activities, etc. is fundamentally wrong. What psychologists refer to as low self-esteem is alternatively called as ‘status anxiety’ by social commentators. These are especially more evident in poor peoples’ conceptions of themselves, as they suffer from ‘Affluenza’ – “the bloated, sluggish and unfulfilled feeling that results from efforts to keep up with the Joneses” (de Graaf et. al, p.172). In other words, it is the influenza like ailment that affects citizens when they march mindlessly in pursuit of affluence. As the authors pertinently state,
“there’s a downside to this obsession, and in our hearts most of us know it. Pollster Richard Harwood found that out back in 1995, when he conducted a survey for the Merck Family Fund about American attitudes concerning consumption. ‘People are saying that we spend and buy far more than we need. That our children are becoming very materialistic and that we’re spending for what we want today at the expense of future generations and our own future’” (de Graaf et. al, p.72)
The rich elite in the United States have acquired a reputation for conspicuous consumption – one that undermines the sustenance of essential natural resources of the environment in the long term. As a result of the rich continuing their habits of consuming greater quantities every year of coal, oil, clean air and water, vegetation, fertile soil, and other natural resources, the costs of these environmental degradations are shifted to the poor people. Already essential services like access to pure drinking water have come under control of private corporations – the rise in consumption of bottled water being a manifestation of this. While the rich elite can easily afford this expenditure, the poor are usurped of their meager earnings as they are forced to pay for even their basic necessities. Such has been the implications of Affluenza that poor people are the worst hit by it (de Graaf et. al, p.252).
This assessment directly supports our thesis that the poor people are punished twice by Affluenza. In this case not only are their own lives impoverished and turns into a struggle for survival, the same is destined for their children as well, as a result of the growing national debt due to heavy consumerism today. If the challenges of overcoming their socio-economic origin are not bad enough, the children of poor people, when they grow up to become adults will have to bear the costs of their previous generations as well, thereby waiting to be punished twice. This pathetic condition, especially affecting the poor is lucidly illustrated by the authors thus: