Real hope (review of ‘Curing Affluenza’)

Curing AffluenzaI’m not the first, and I’m pretty sure I won’t be the last, to say that Curing Affluenza by Richard Denniss is a really good book. It’s a book that diagnoses many of the problems that are afflicting world societies today and then holds out real hope of a cure.

It is physically impossible for the production of stuff to grow exponentially for another thousand years. It’s probably impossible for it to grow exponentially for another hundred. And if the world is to avoid dangerous climate change, the trajectory of human consumption will need to change radically in the coming decade. (Curing Affluenza, p49)

Denniss wants us to consider that maybe we can be happier, healthier, and even richer (yes, richer) if we shift our economies away from wasteful overproduction of stuff we don’t really need towards production of the services we all love to have (including good education, health care, and leisure activities).

Affluenza is that strange desire we feel to spend money we don’t have to buy things we don’t need to impress people we don’t know. (Curing Affluenza, p1)

Denniss is really good at skewering the current fetish with growing gross domestic product (GDP) at all costs. Many politicians talk as if it didn’t matter what our economies produced as long as we produced more of it — but this is just idiotic. What our economies produce, and how, and for who — these are the real questions. Denniss makes this beautifully clear, and it opens up a wonderful world of opportunities for the future.

Shouldn’t our future be full of wonderful opportunities? Humanity has never had so much power, accumulated capital, technical capability, cultural history, scientific knowledge or talented individuals available to put to work. We should be able to create a future for the world that is pretty damn near paradise, and then keep it that way. If we aren’t currently headed in that direction, it may be because too many of us are thinking about the problems and the solutions in the wrong way. I think this book can help us all get our heads right.

Maybe it’s just me, but I saw it as a very Australian sort of book — not because it talks about Australia, but because it displays a certain character. It is pragmatic and down-to-earth. It is progressive to the point of being quite radical in its implications, but it is written with a friendliness and optimism that is quite disarming. Unlike some radicals, Denniss doesn’t want us to put on a hairshirt and suffer. He wants us to stop and think for a moment, then move off together in a smarter direction. I think he believes that people (or a lot of people anyway) are kind, smart and capable of looking after the planet. That gives me real hope.

©2018 Craig Bingham

Curing Affluenza Richard Dennis. Melbourne: Black Inc, 2017. Can be bought here: https://www.blackincbooks.com.au/books/curing-affluenza

Richard Denniss is chief economist at the Australia Institute. The Australia Institute website has more information on how to cure Affluenza and other good things you can do: tai.org.au

 

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