Oliver James, Affluenza: How to be Successful and Stay Sane (London: Vermilion, 2007), xxii + 570pp., ISBN 9780091900113, £8.99, and The Selfish Capitalist: Origins of Affluenza (London: Vermilion, 2008), 288pp., ISBN 9780091923815, £14.99.
‘Affluenza’ is the virus which increases our vulnerability to emotional distress by placing a high value on wealth, possessions, status, and appearance. Far from economic growth making us happier, James argues, it has made us more susceptible to depression, anxiety attacks, and personality disorder. The US and UK, in particular, are plagued by an attack of unrealistic aspirations, competitive workaholism, entrepreneurial fantasies, sustained by the ideology that material affluence is the key to personal fulfilment. The virus promotes ‘having’ over ‘being’ and confuses wants with needs. Blaming affluence for our ills might blind us to other damaging features of society, but there is lots to ponder here, much of it resonating with a Christian worldview. The paperback edition of Affluenza coincided with the publication of The Selfish Capitalist, a more rigorous reworking of the same material, detailing the academic research that underpins the ideas he explores.