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The Forum > Article Comments > Affluenza: The new illness in Australia? > Comments

Affluenza: The new illness in Australia? : Comments

By Clive Hamilton, published 1/8/2005

Clive Hamilton examines the Australian dream and why so many are doing it tough.

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Clive,

A timely piece for us to consider here but I fess up, I am guilty of being attracted to expensive gadgets and gizmo's and my shed is full of things that are now useless to me but I dare not throw them away because of there price. And it appears my son is doing the same. His draws are full of yesterdays toys and 'have to haves'.

But even I would not buy a 7 thousand dollar BBQ!

Frugality was clearly a part of the fiscal culture of my parents and I do remember those wise words of "waste not, want not" being uttered on many occasions during my youth. But this was also part of the wider community ethic. Waste was looked down upon.

But while the need to display status and modernity can be accredited with this unrealistic spend-up, I also sense that this phenomenon is linked to a need to compensate for a sense of community.

Urban family reaction outside the home days costs a bundle. Iím sure country families donít sit around the box for hours on end or buy the latest model BBQ to impress themselves and their neighbors.

The home entertainment system has become that place where parents who are working too many hours a week can sit down with their family and enjoy something together.

The scary thing is that the next generation of parents will think this is what the cost of parenting and family is all about
Posted by Rainier, Monday, 1 August 2005 11:03:16 AM
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Gosh, Clive, you've discovered that "fools and their money are soon parted". It is not new. I think it was Fernand Braudell, in his history of European commerce over the past millenium, who pointed out the fundamental difference between consumers and investors, and why the former are comparatively poor while the latter are comparatively richer.

Consumers exchange labour for cash to obtain goods while investors exchange labour and cash for goods to convert back to more cash. So compared to "the millionaire next door", who drives a 15 year old vehicle and sensible clothes, conspicuous consumers are poorer. And the primary reason for their condition is the fact that they insist on advertising their gullibility.

But they are also the prime beneficiaries of their exploitation. For the speed with which their money parts company is the same engine that keeps them employed at a higher salary than their efforts might merit. And the extremely adverse economic, social and environmental consequences of slowing down that engine for any sort of higher public good have been modelled with far greater accuracy than any of the doomsday scenarios that have been used to justify stringent curbs on economic activity.

You are also seriously mistaken in describing housing, as distinct from furnishings, as "consumption". In Australia housing has become the dominant form of superannuation savings. It is the subtle mechanism by which even the most conspicuous consumer is converted into an investor. They exchange labour and cash from their existing house for the purpose of converting it into a more valuable house that can be liquidated easily for subsequent downsizing.

But what about the cost to the environment? I hear you say. Well some of the most conspicuous housing consumption in the country can be found on the canal estates of SE Queensland. And it is these same canals that have by far the most abundant and diverse array of marine species this side of the Barrier Reef. Why do you think they are so dangerous to swim in and so full of sharks?
Posted by Perseus, Monday, 1 August 2005 12:39:45 PM
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A few thoughts...

There's more to life than money... says the one who has not much.

Money isn't everything... says the one who has more than enough.

Rich and poor have become relative concepts that politocos can redefine to encircle the majority for the purpuse of advancing political agenda, rather than the very small minority at the top and the bottom to whom these terms actually apply.

Why are concepts of rich and poor only defined on the basis of a limited geography, such as one country. The poverty line in this country is living rich in say the philipines.

Rich and poor are political concepts.

Why is money the only basis for measuring so called rich and poor?

What is the difference between a need and a want? Do people need more dough or do they want more?

Has life become so empty and meaningless for the money oriented consumer junkie that one's happiness is measured by the price tag on one's belongings. Sometimes l wounder why folks buy $100k cars and wear $20k diamonds, when wot they really want to do is drive around with a wad of cash strapped to roof of their car and a fist fall of dollars in their hands, saying to the world... 'look at me.'

l guess that such vain honesty would be tacky.

Articles like this one might get people thinking for themselves and decoupled from the god of consumption. Can't have too much of that going on, otherwise the house of cards known as 'the economy' built on fiat currency, deficit spending, living on borrowed time and stealing from both the future and thy neighbour, might crumble.

Its easier to up the dose rather than get off the junk.
Posted by trade215, Monday, 1 August 2005 1:48:27 PM
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In trying to take a positive spin on affluenza, I'm all for it ... I used to feel left out being one of the 'Have Nots' but feel now that it's more a battle of the "Needs It"s and "Doesn't Need It"s. Being on the side of doesn't-need-it that warm, smug feeling is all mine when I ride my $50 bicycle past all the range-rovers in Toorak and attain the same sense of satisfaction from a free BBQ in the park as those losers do from a $7,000 BBQ. There is also so much more variety and quality in the second hand store these days, with the Needs-Its having to perpetually upgrade. I completely agree with Clive, but feel it doesn't have to entirely be an anti-consumption message because it's still just as possible to enjoy all the same goods as the affluenza-afflicted but at half the price. We don't necessarily have to buy less, just re-define our sense of value.
Posted by Audrey, Monday, 1 August 2005 2:08:12 PM
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All of this pointless consumption provides jobs. I mean, if people were to stop buying junk they don't need, how many businesses would go broke? Unemployment would then skyrocket, and bored people with a lot of time and not much to do would then turn to destructive behaviours.

I found myself recently in a situation with no car. No car meant that I was literally stranded. I could'nt go to the shops to purchase junk as I pleased. I brought out the mountain bike bought years ago and never used, and realised how unfit I was.
Posted by davo, Monday, 1 August 2005 2:19:02 PM
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I'd give my eyeteeth to get off the affluenza treadmill, but I've recently moved to braodband, and upgraded my computer, and I think I feel happier that I can read this forum more quickly than before!
Posted by Doug, Monday, 1 August 2005 8:35:55 PM
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