Clive Hamilton: The pursuit of wealth and luxury is making us ill

From a speech by the executive director of the Australia Institute to the Institute for Public Policy Research
Click to follow

Last year, we asked Britons whether they could afford to buy everything they really need. Sixty per cent believe they can't. When we consider that Britain is one of the world's richest countries, and that Britons have real incomes nearly three times higher than in 1950, it is remarkable such a high proportion feel their incomes are inadequate. It is even more astonishing to note that when we separate the richest 20 per cent of the population, 46 per cent say they can't afford to buy everything they really need. In Australia and the USA, the proportion of the "suffering rich" is about the same.

Last year, we asked Britons whether they could afford to buy everything they really need. Sixty per cent believe they can't. When we consider that Britain is one of the world's richest countries, and that Britons have real incomes nearly three times higher than in 1950, it is remarkable such a high proportion feel their incomes are inadequate. It is even more astonishing to note that when we separate the richest 20 per cent of the population, 46 per cent say they can't afford to buy everything they really need. In Australia and the USA, the proportion of the "suffering rich" is about the same.

The sense of deprivation felt by most Britons is closely related to the phenomenon of "luxury fever". The desire to emulate the lifestyles of the very rich has led to booming sales of trophy homes, luxury cars, professional quality home equipment and cosmetic surgery. The scaling up of "needs" outpaces the growth of incomes so that many people who are wealthy by any historical or international standard actually feel quite poor.

Despite the promises that maximising economic growth will give us a better society, we are in the grip of a plague of mental disorders and alienation. If we can discern no light to draw us on, no way out of our despond, then what else do we do? Mental illness is a natural response to the hopelessness of modern consumer life.

So we need a new politics, one that transcends growth fetishism, a politics that once again takes our wellbeing seriously rather than fobbing us off with promises of more money.

Comments