According to virtually all statistical measures, Australians have become much, much richer in the past few decades than their parents or grandparents could have dreamed of. Who at the turn of the century, would have imagined us living in a world where we had a car each, had a large house, and hundreds of individual possessions?
Yet it seems in recent decades this trend for consumer capitalism has gotten totally out of control. It now often seems even having a house, car and job isn't enough; we have to have massive plasma television sets, several home computers, a third generation mobile phone, a whizz bang computer and games for the kids, both parents working to the hilt to pay the mortgage, expensive holidays and a million dollars in super at the end of it. We have to send our children to the most expensive private schools and universities, and money and getting things is the most important thing.
This is the picture Hamilton paints of Australia, where people binge on credit, where Australians work themselves almost to death to supply an endless array of goods and services which they don't really need, and are wasted; where about 20% of the population suffer from mental health problems related to low self esteem and stress, and where people avoid having children because each costs $250,000 to raise, and where our rampant consumption is ruining our environment as well as our health.
I certainly agree many of the ideas put forward in this book are true. Australia does seem to have become a place where the ethic of 'mateship' and community has been replaced with the rather heartless ethics of global capitalism, which are aimed at endless economic growth and growing individual prosperity. Reforms to make the Australian economy more open to foreign competition were opened in the 1980's by the Labour government, and ever since then in Australia the emphasis is more and more on aligning ourselves to the globalised world.
I do feel though that material progress is a good thing. However, our material progress is having some negative consequences, such as rocketing house prices and crippling resource shortages, in water and other areas. Our reckless focus on 'growth only' is also doing great damage to our environment, globally and locally.
Money is important and Australia must not go the way of Sub-Saharan Africa, being poor, overpopulated and racked by pollution and war. However I agree the time is coming when Australians will need to see there is more to life than simply the material; no amount of money or personal possessions is going to stop us from dying and suffering ill health, though wealth can delay both. We also need to be more charitable to the poor, as Australia still has some 100,000 homeless people, and we need to recognise the spiritual is an integral part of life, regardless of how much or how little we have (I am sure there is a correlation between the breakdown of religion and community in Australia and depression and other forms of mental illness).
To cure ourselves of affluenza we need to focus less on affluence and more on quality of life, which unfortunately affluence can't bring entirely on its own, without good ethical, social, spiritual and community values and wholeness and environmental sustainability. There seems little point in having a beautiful house or a brand new 4WD when the skies of your city are constantly polluted, water is running out, and garbage is piling up everywhere in the streets and elsewhere.