Life is probably getting worse
November 19, 2010 12:11 PM   Subscribe

"Affluence breeds impatience, and impatience undermines well-being." Avner Offer is the professor of economic history at the University of Oxford, and he is interested in the well-being of people and families in liberal market societies. His latest work, The Challenge of Affluence: Self-Control and Well-Being in the United States and Britain since 1950, is an empirical socioeconomic history of the effects that liberal and neo-liberal economics has had on happiness, relationships, and social welfare. Specifically, he argues that Reaganism/Thatcherism catapulted forward the ability to produce new goods and services, and to create the desire for them, far ahead of society's ability to cope. Reagan and Thatcher "smashed the family to pieces;" the result of market liberalism is societies of ever-more dissatisfied, atomized, unhappy communities of dual-worker consumerist families.
posted by r_nebblesworthII (51 comments total) 58 users marked this as a favorite

 
I agree whole-heartedly with this theory, except for the one point of being uncomfortable with the wording. Let's call it "Free Market Fundamentalism," or "Hyper-capitalism" or "Reaganism" or "Thatcherism." Because I'm afraid there's going to be many on the extreme right and the Palinesque white-supremeacy crowd, who will only see the world "liberal" in there and it confirms their whole twisted and ignorant and fucked-up worldview.

Otherwise. WTF, Oxford. About fucking time...
posted by Skygazer at 12:30 PM on November 19, 2010 [7 favorites]


"...British and American women today are five times more likely to be mentally ill than women in the 1950s...."

Doesn't he mean "more likely to be diagnosed as mentally ill?"
posted by Perplexity at 12:35 PM on November 19, 2010 [22 favorites]


I yelled at my nine-year-old son this morning to get out of bed. I went up to his room a few minutes later to find him crying, and I asked, "What's the matter?" He said, "I think I'm wasting your time." Maybe Reagan and Thatcher are to blame, but I'm the one who must change.
posted by No Robots at 12:35 PM on November 19, 2010 [20 favorites]


As I understand it, neo-liberal economies don't give a shit about how they affect consumers so long as the CEOs of the companies they consume from are happy.
posted by Legomancer at 12:38 PM on November 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


I wonder how well this thesis mixes and meshes with Adam Curtis' Century Of The Self. Based on the summary, they seem to talk about some of the same things.
posted by hippybear at 12:40 PM on November 19, 2010


"Reagan" only appears once in the FiveBooks / Oliver James link:

"...specific details of Thatcherism and Reaganomics in America smashed the family to pieces. What I was talking about earlier, the disinvestment in the domestic household economy, he provides all the evidence. Insecure working conditions combined with increased levels of education in women makes everybody compete ever harder and creates a much greater conflict for women about whether to stay at work or not."

So he is "blaming" Reagan (and Thatcher) for... women's increased educational levels and women's greater choices with respect to careers?
posted by Perplexity at 12:43 PM on November 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


Buying things will not make you happy, I think that's the general message here. Unfortunatly we've built an entire culture around buying things, where that becomes the Thing To Do. I currently live in the suburbs and I keep thinking "Why am I so miserable here? It's safe, the rent is cheap, I have access to everything I could want and need, I should be totally jazzed about that. But I'm not, and now I feel guilty because I'm not happy. I'm grateful but not happy. Time to CONSUME!" I'm not sure if this is due to a lack of perspective, or if there's a tangible misery inherent in consumer culture. Perhaps this book answers those questions, I dunno. Maybe everyone driving around in identical cars is just as miserable as I am, and are just better at hiding it.
posted by hellojed at 12:44 PM on November 19, 2010 [11 favorites]


He said, "I think I'm wasting your time."

At which point you pulled out the powerpoint presentation showing him projected results into the next 8 quarters and at what point you're thinking to sell him off to the highest bidder for maximum profit and the CEO (you) derives max. bonuses and returns.

I'm joking of course. That story is heartbreaking. WTF, little kid?? Wasting your daddy's time??
posted by Skygazer at 12:47 PM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Don't want to thread mod here, but I'm not sure that's exactly his point; I believe he is sort of mapping out how the past 50 years have been great at producing affluence, as you say, education and choices but not happiness, satisfaction, intimacy among family and friends... I would point to the "Dutch women don't work" post of a few days ago as an example of a society which has taken their expanded economic opportunity and feminism in a different direction.
posted by r_nebblesworthII at 12:49 PM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Unequal distribution of misery?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 12:49 PM on November 19, 2010


Buying things will not make you happy, I think that's the general message here.

Well, I think it's more like it doesn't fix larger issues, or create sustaining happiness. It can definitely create short-term happiness, however (which is not worthless, IMO).
posted by wildcrdj at 12:53 PM on November 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


Hey Skygazer:
Yeah. It hit me hard. I told him that he was the most important person in my life, and that I always have time for him. Then, after getting to the car to face a vicious cross-town snow-bound drive, he gets a look on his face. I say, "What is it?" Silence. "I've got time." He looks down, I look down, and he's wearing runners. "You need boots, right? Let's go back in and get them."

This isn't the first time I've lost patience with him in the morning as I'm thinking about getting to work on time. I'm working on it.
posted by No Robots at 12:54 PM on November 19, 2010 [16 favorites]


Stuff does not equal happiness.

Got it.
posted by IndigoJones at 12:56 PM on November 19, 2010


Free market fundamentalism? The "collateral damage" of the economic vocabulary.

I prefer to call it the "fuck you I got mine" theory of economics.
posted by Talez at 1:00 PM on November 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'm sorry.... but buying things makes me happy. That's why I buy things.

If the need to buy things made me unhappy, that would a problem with my ability to deal with life, not a problem with buying things.
posted by y6y6y6 at 1:00 PM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Every time has its heartache. When's the last time someone came by and forcefully conscripted your entire family into the army to go take over the Pope's territories? When's the last time someone you know died of small pox? When the last time someone called you a pansy for going to therapy and talking about your feelings?
posted by spicynuts at 1:00 PM on November 19, 2010 [15 favorites]


empirical socioeconomic history of the effects that liberal and neo-liberal economics has had on happiness, relationships, and social welfare

People in the developed world today are kinder, more polite and empathtic than they were 50 years ago. Any review of cultural product (movies, books, newspapers, magazines) from 1950 to today would tell you that. We are also better fed, better housed, more humanely employed, and extremely well-entertained at every socio-economic level. Food, clothing and shoes are incredibly cheap -- not to mention electronic devices. We all have our own walkie talkies that reach any part of the world. It's as Louis CK pointed out in his priceless statement of the obvious on Conan -- we are living in freakin' UTOPIA people. Even in the midst of a huge stinking economic recession, we are still a pretty happy and satisfied society. If you don't think that's true, why don't you try organizing a demonstration of angry people to march on Washington? Glenn Beck organized a march on Washington, and it turned out to be a mild celebration of vague spirituality. That TV comedian Stewart organized a march on Washington and it turned out to be a celebration of irony and good humor. This isn't the 1930s or 1960s. Haven't you noticed that with salient exceptions that are widely publicized, most people in the west knock themselves out to be kind and fair to people of other races and cultures and sexual preferences. Do you think that happened much before the 1050s and the Reagan-Thatcher era? Even poor people sleep on mattresses that are more comfortable than the best mattresses of the 1940s, they wear shoes that fit better and wear longer than shoes the richest man in the world could have worn in 1950. You can say "fuck" more or less any time you want in any company. There are free dirty movies on tv and the internet. Every piece of music ever recorded is now available to everyone for FREE. So are most movies, books and magazines. I could go on and on, but when someone starts griping about how miserable everything is, and blames free markets, I gotta, well ... I just got get happy.
posted by Faze at 1:10 PM on November 19, 2010 [39 favorites]


And, as has be pointed out, we could have had all that same progress without two adult family members having to work, which is the point here.
posted by Abiezer at 1:17 PM on November 19, 2010 [6 favorites]


It's fine to point to problems. But, really, who is to blame, and what are we supposed to do about it? You can say "education", and that's fine, except even there, you'll quickly come up against fundamental conflicts over values. And whose values should prevail? I for one, like choices. I like consumer goods and I like the fact that I can augment my life with "stuff". I have my priorities, and fuck you, if you don't like it. As happens, I prioritize my human relationships above material goods, but if I didn't, so what? Is there some kind of "objective" good, that's good for all? I'm afraid that on some level, the best we can do is provide people with options. It is up to them to choose - including to choose to live as buddhist monks. I like the fact that the society provides me with choices. Certainly I think we can (and must, if we are to survive) make the economy more sustainable long term, and we can do much more to give people the tools to educate themselves, but there are some real issues of values here, and no black and white answers. And it's absurd to blame Thatcher/Reagan for any of this - and I'm speaking as a "liberal".
posted by VikingSword at 1:22 PM on November 19, 2010


There is a cure for affluence - it's called poverty. You'll learn a lot of patience in a soup line. But I don't think your well-being will be any better. And by gosh and golly - woman do belong back in the kitchen! It was better when she was home warming up my slippers and pipe.

If this is the best argument of today's 'anti-liberal capitalism' camp - I think the cold war is finally (almost over)... except for affluent Oxford professors digging for some thesis to rally the emotively discontented against a system that has made it harder to be materially poor. Sure, having stuff like food and housing frees you to the task of pursuing happiness. Sure, it isn't easy. But it is a lot easier with affluence. How is this thesis different than a drunk blaming society for their alcoholism?

The headline is so zany I can't and won't bring myself to dig deeper. Can someone with patience for nonsense tell me if he is proposing an alternative to liberal capitalism or is it just a critique demonstrating how to swap perfectly clear terms like 'working family' with 'dual-worker consumerist' to fool people into thinking you have created a profound insight to justify your tenure induced affluence?

Here is my theory: affluence breeds boredom, and boredom breeds nutty professors.
posted by astrobiophysican at 1:23 PM on November 19, 2010 [6 favorites]


I don't even know where to begin with Faze's comment, so here's the general gist of my retort:

LIES LIES LIES
posted by entropicamericana at 1:27 PM on November 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


There's a good Avner Offer article here

I thought this was pretty wise:

Well-being is poorly measured by the metrics of economic activity. All experiences are ultimately in the mind. One notion of well-being is that of a comfortable bodily and mental state. Balance is the key: homeostasis, equilibrium, set-points. This means that the flow of inputs should match our capacity to absorb them. True prosperity is a good balance between short-term arousal, and long-term security. [footnote omitted] One writer calls it ‘flow’, another calls it ‘pacing’. [footnote omitted] In economics, consumers are assumed to be insatiable. In reality, the flow of new rewards can swamp the capacity to enjoy them. The challenge is not to maximize consumption, but to pace it back to the level of optimal satisfaction.
posted by ferdydurke at 1:28 PM on November 19, 2010 [5 favorites]


I have noticed that at the same time that many young (twenties/thirties) men in the US are beginning to question exactly what they are getting for their "corporate loyalty," that I see many young women who seem to buy into the idea that big corp job = freedom. The rhetoric I hear is all about "independence" from "any man" but they seem to be blind to the fact that the nice corporate job that gets them the clothes and the nice apartment etc, is just another kind of "man" that binds them. It's as if the previous (wrongheaded) unquestioning loyalty to the male figure has been replaced by the equally wrongheaded devoted loyalty to the mega corporate state.
posted by wuwei at 1:29 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


it's absurd to blame Thatcher/Reagan for any of this
Margaret Thatcher: "Economics are the method; the object is to change the heart and soul." She certainly thought she was doing something of the sort.
posted by Abiezer at 1:29 PM on November 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


Oops, forgot link.
posted by Abiezer at 1:30 PM on November 19, 2010


As I understand it, neo-liberal economies don't give a shit about how they affect consumers so long as the CEOs of the companies they consume from are happy.

I would guess the CEOs aren't happy either, they're doing all the same stuff only more so.

They just *claim* to be happy, since to admit the awful sucking sounds in their own souls is just unacceptable.
posted by winjer at 1:30 PM on November 19, 2010


He poses it partly as an issue of female liberation, as they used to call it. I can see that it is a huge part of what happened, and that the reason many educated women work now is that it is expected, and what having that education now means. (We don't learn for the sake of learning, after all, these days. We "learn" in order to get a degree so that we can make more money.)

And I haven't read the book, but I do think he doesn't just mean that women have left the home. (In the lower income brackets, it's usually not a choice. It really never has been. Women of the lower classes have always worked and left their children if possible, hopefully not to fend for themselves.) When middle class women went to work, it was just her joining him in the industrial disconnection from the home. The bosses want us *all* to leave home, because when we have empty homes we never see because we're working such insane hours, we have no time to do things that cost nearly nothing. You know, like playing for hours with our children, or cooking big meals from scratch. (And I don't see that as gendered behavior.) We then have to find something to do with the money we're earning, so it becomes about the markers of middle class family life. The boat. The second home. The vacations where we schedule ourselves to witness parts of world as one would consume a postcard.

A lot of that is gone in our present economy, so rampant under/unemployment has brought people home whether they like it or not. I wonder how many people are realizing that staying home, making a home rather than a too-big box to keep our stuff in, isn't a better way to live. Not that unemployment doesn't cause its own troubles in the home, but not everyone who loses their job becomes an alcoholic and depressed.

I often wonder if the reason industrial society resists allowing telecommuting isn't because if you stay home in your yoga pants all day you'll suddenly realize what a vampire your employer is. How much less will you consume when you're able to enjoy your life with your family and can give your time instead of the latest Playstation?
posted by RedEmma at 1:31 PM on November 19, 2010 [17 favorites]


Maybe I should have made the headline: "There's no such thing as society"

The alternative to a society mindlessly bent on increasing GDP every year is not soup lines.

It's pretty clear that there are a lot of ways to set up a capitalist system and it's also not clear that setting up the system to drive as much wealth as possible to the top 1% is the best way.

I believe Offer and other thinkers like him (such as Bill McKibben) would say that there is enough wealth in developed countries at least, that the focus should shift, at least a little bit, to things like providing more free time for the average person, more opportunity to do volunteer work in their communities (where workers are happiest), rebuild social safety nets, reign in corporate power and advertising, etc.

It's worth thinking about, after all, not every 1st world capitalist country looks like the U.S. and Britain.
posted by r_nebblesworthII at 1:39 PM on November 19, 2010 [11 favorites]


I'm skeptical about this. It seems to me that Reagan and Thatcher had much, much more direct impacts on society than he's giving them credit for; and the harm they did, with due respect, seems like it had little to do with some perceived increase in production or availability of commodities. I'd say it had a lot more to do with a haughty sense of social entitlement by the establishment, a sense of paranoia about politics in general, and a sense of morality that was circumscribed in a disconcertingly tight way. Aren't those things a bit more significant than "Reaganomics" and "Thatcherism"?
posted by koeselitz at 1:41 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Margaret Thatcher: "Economics are the method; the object is to change the heart and soul." She certainly thought she was doing something of the sort.

That assumes that she has either a heart or a soul.
posted by Talez at 1:51 PM on November 19, 2010


> The alternative to a society mindlessly bent on increasing GDP every year is not soup lines.

Enough Is Enough (pdf)
posted by Bangaioh at 1:57 PM on November 19, 2010


For happiness, spend money on experiences.
posted by hippybear at 2:03 PM on November 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


It's worth thinking about, after all, not every 1st world capitalist country looks like the U.S. and Britain.

I wish more people would realize this. It's odd how often people bash capitalism without realizing that most Nordic social democracies are more capitalistic than the US in a lot of ways.
posted by ripley_ at 2:06 PM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


I often wonder if the reason industrial society resists allowing telecommuting isn't because if you stay home in your yoga pants all day you'll suddenly realize what a vampire your employer is.

Nah, I think they're just paranoid that you'll not actually do any work. And of course it does make your physical presence slightly less available for long, pointless meetings, which are the raison d'etre of middle management.

Also, if you're my employer, you just built a whopping great industrial fortress of glass and steel, and you need people bustling around in it all day to justify the expense.
posted by emjaybee at 2:14 PM on November 19, 2010 [5 favorites]


I believe Offer and other thinkers like him (such as Bill McKibben) would say that there is enough wealth in developed countries at least, that the focus should shift, at least a little bit, to things like...

There's no question that wealth brings happiness...up to a point. After that point, increasing wealth brings less and less marginal increase in happiness.
Thus the proliferation of measurements as alternatives to GDP: Gross National Happiness, Genuine Progress Indicator , Happy Planet Index, etc.
(Previously)
posted by MtDewd at 2:18 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


In my experience (which is of middle class non-immigrant Norwegians), there is a great deal of consumerism in Norway. They really do love having the latest gadgets. But they also have the benefit of *time* with family--long vacation times, long family leave. They don't have the worry associated with making enough money to pay for health care or retirement. Yes, they have second (and sometimes third) homes. They take awesome vacations. (But they aren't pressed for time, it seems, and so thus have less of the Icons of Destination, Museum-hopping sorts of tours Americans often take when they go abroad.)

It's interesting what can happen when you have a culture that that has far less stress about becoming impoverished. So the social safety net encourages the consumerist economy, there. And if we're looking at consumerism as an environmental disaster, then how does Norway and the US compare? What are the costs, there alone? Is the Norwegian family cohesive and happy? Divorce is high, but I always saw extended family, no matter how divorced, attending family gatherings.
posted by RedEmma at 2:21 PM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Faze's comment reduces to: the kinder, more polite, and more empathic people of today see problems that the meaner, coarser, and less empathic people of yesteryear would not recognize as problems. This should be unremarkable and uninteresting.

A more general tool for assessing comparative well-being -- certainly more general than "how well do my shoes fit, compared to those worn by King Ferdinand?" -- is to try and arrive at an answer to the following question: what is the average extent to which an individual can steer their life's course in the direction they would wish it to go? How much self-determination, on average, does an individual enjoy? Has this degree of practical liberty increased or decreased?

That is a more nuanced question, of course, but at least anecdotally it does tend to correlate rather well with feelings of self-fulfillment: those whose circumstances allow them to lead lives broadly like the lives they want to lead tend to feel more fulfilled; those for whom their circumstances leave them unable to lead lives like they'd like to lead tend to feel less fulfilled.

And, of course, this lets us return full circle: why should it be surprising -- or otherwise of interest -- if the kinder, more polite, and more empathic people of today have subtler, more specific goals for their lives? Why should we not expect that their goals and dreams would not be more ambitious, and thus often find themselves less able to attain with the means at their disposal than it seems would have been the case, mutatis mutandis, for the goals they would've had in the circumstances they would've had in some other time.

In this light I think that in general people are today not miserable in the way that starving masses are miserable, and are not oppressed the way blacks were in the era of Jim Crow, but there is a palpable sense, almost everywhere I go, that people are today less able than before to live the kinds of lives they would like to live, cellular telephony and the increased comfort of mattresses notwithstanding. This criterion is a little more nuanced and clearly more subjective than the softness of today's shoe leather (or the ownership rates for color televisions, etc.) but that's as it should be: well-being is ultimately a mental phenomena, intimate and personal, and should you spend too much time evaluating the justified well-being of others in material terms you may find your own character somewhat abraded for the effort.
posted by hoople at 2:21 PM on November 19, 2010 [21 favorites]


You get a full exposition of why you can blame 'Thatcher and Reagan', if taken as shorthand for the neoliberal backlash since the '70s, in Harvey's A Brief History of Neoliberalism; one passage on Polyani sums it up well:
The idea of freedom 'degenerates into a mere advocacy of free enterprise’, which means ‘the fullness of freedom for those whose income leisure and security need no enhancing, and a mere pittance of liberty for the people, who may in vain attempt to make use of their democratic rights to gain shelter from the power of the owners of property’. But if, as is always the case, ‘no society is possible in which power and compulsion are absent, nor a world in which force has no function’, then the only way this liberal utopian vision could be sustained is by force, violence and authoritarianism. Liberal or neo-liberal utopianism is doomed, in Polyani’s view to be frustrated by authoritarianism, or even outright fascism. The good freedoms are lost, the bad freedoms take over.
I think this ties in with ripley_'s point but in a negative way - having witnessed a decade and more of the ongoing integration of China into the neoliberal world order I've had a chance to see both how some genuine freedoms are brought in its wake but how dependent it is on authoritarian controls (which made China such an appealing location for FDI; capital voted with its money for a 'disciplined labour force'), a great rise in precariousness and a breaking of older social ties every bit as radical as anything during the collective era. Now that the globalising project is so intrinsic to the way the economy operates, although we're not yet considered part of the first world here, it's foolish to deny that Chinese capitalism is an integral part of the commodity plenty.
posted by Abiezer at 2:24 PM on November 19, 2010 [5 favorites]


Being preoccupied with false choices is not happiness.
posted by notion at 3:07 PM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's interesting what can happen when you have a culture that that has far less stress about becoming impoverished.

Norway, eh? Whatever is the secret?

Oh, it has a metric fuckton of oil, and uses the income to fund a ginormous pension fund, thus seeming to be the only state in the world that has avoided the resource curse.

So they got that going for them.
posted by chavenet at 4:08 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, didn't think to mention that since, like, everyone knows that. However, as an American, I wonder how it would be if we the people got a significant part of the profits from extraction of our natural resources? Ahhh... but that would be socialism. Silly me.
posted by RedEmma at 5:00 PM on November 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


> it has a metric fuckton of oil

You know who else has a metric fuckton of oil?

Too bad they choose to consume it at about four times the world average rate and prefer to rely predominantly on imports.
posted by Bangaioh at 5:11 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


For more on the historical record of neoliberal thought and the policy that has come out of it, check out the aforementioned Brief History of Neoliberalism (Harvey) as well as Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine. Neither work is perfect, and Klein in particular has received a fair bit of methodological and stylistic criticism, but both make some compelling arguments about the negative geopolitical and political economic impacts of neoliberal thought and policy.

For another take on changes in US society and the relationship between economic prosperity and quality of life, I highly recommend Elsewhere U.S.A. by academic rockstar Dalton Conley.

Happy reading!
posted by narcotizingdysfunction at 5:14 PM on November 19, 2010


I see Pierre Bordieu gave his take on neoliberalism back in 1998:
...a Darwinian world emerges - it is the struggle of all against all at all levels of the hierarchy, which finds support through everyone clinging to their job and organisation under conditions of insecurity, suffering, and stress. Without a doubt, the practical establishment of this world of struggle would not succeed so completely without the complicity of all of the precarious arrangements that produce insecurity and of the existence of a reserve army of employees rendered docile by these social processes that make their situations precarious, as well as by the permanent threat of unemployment. This reserve army exists at all levels of the hierarchy, even at the higher levels, especially among managers. The ultimate foundation of this entire economic order placed under the sign of freedom is in effect the structural violence of unemployment, of the insecurity of job tenure and the menace of layoff that it implies. The condition of the "harmonious" functioning of the individualist micro-economic model is a mass phenomenon, the existence of a reserve army of the unemployed.
Italics as per original. Structural threats to well-being have accompanied various phases of modernity and earlier socieities; but then the threat of unemployment in the present day is not an unavoidable evil as, say, the threat of famine was in pre-modern agrarian societies.
posted by Abiezer at 6:07 PM on November 19, 2010 [6 favorites]


The problem is that people really like hyperbole.

Most people probably aren't "happy", and that's probably always been true (at least, that's the general impression I've gotten from reading historical literature). But we have different problems now than we did before. A thirsty man might claim he'd cut his right arm off for a drink, but that's just exaggeration. Really, he knows the arm is important too, and he knows he'd miss it immediately if he gave it up.

Affluence has solved a lot of what once were our most pressing problems. Today, our main irritations are that our jobs are emotionally draining and that our personal relationships are faltering. We may say we'd sacrifice our physical well-being to change that, but I think (at least, I hope) most people here are sane enough not to take that too literally. "Things are always getting worse," though a constant refrain through the centuries, isn't so much a literal statement of fact as an emotional outburst expressing our frustration that there always seem to be a few problems we haven't seriously addressed yet.

The notion that it's time to put some of our awesomely abundant resources toward reducing our work hours, reducing the magnitude of our social inequalities, and creating more contexts for social interaction (a.k.a. fun) makes a lot of sense to me, even though I don't agree literally with the "technology sucks, affluence sucks, the world is a shithole" phrasing. We're constantly getting more resources. The argument is just that we have filled up the materialism bucket well past overflowing and maybe it's time we point the economic firehose at the nearly-empty social bucket for a little while.
posted by Xezlec at 6:40 PM on November 19, 2010 [5 favorites]


>> I often wonder if the reason industrial society resists allowing telecommuting isn't because if you stay home in your yoga pants all day you'll suddenly realize what a vampire your employer is.

> Nah, I think they're just paranoid that you'll not actually do any work. And of course it does make your physical presence slightly less available for long, pointless meetings, which are the raison d'etre of middle management.

These are not mutually contradictory perspectives.
posted by twirlip at 8:40 PM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Even poor people sleep on mattresses that are more comfortable than the best mattresses of the 1940s, they wear shoes that fit better and wear longer than shoes the richest man in the world could have worn in 1950... [snip]

Indeed. Are you aware of the mountains of research regarding how people's self-reported level of happiness quickly resets to a baseline even after major life events like winning the lottery or becoming quadriplegic? Do you think cave men went through life in misery, sleeping on hard natural surfaces?

Further, do you think the route to true happiness for mankind is simply more and more material wealth? One hundred years from now, do you envision each human, sitting alone in his enormous McMansion on the most comfortable nano-cushion couch ever made, in front of a 10 foot high gigapixel TV... finally, truly happy?

From what I can tell, this does appear to be the mainstream American dream - your insulin shots and fistful of psych drugs are sold separately. If you don't see consumer culture as an own-goal on the pursuit of true fulfillment and happiness in life, I'm not quite sure where to start
posted by crayz at 10:33 PM on November 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


Economist review of Offer's book (from 2006).
posted by russilwvong at 11:21 PM on November 19, 2010



Skygazer:
WTF, Oxford. About fucking time...

I'm not familiar with the history of economic history at Oxford, but it seems as if several previous holders of Offner's chair and related posts have also concerned themselves with issues around inequality and development. Sen, I suppose, is the most famous, even thought he's not there any more.

As for Astophysician's ad-hom dig about
affluent Oxford professors

I can only giggle. It reminds me of the joke about the guy who got a Regius Chair at Oxford and could finally afford to buy a house... in Cowley (boom-boom for those who know the region). British academic salaries, even for senior hires and especially for economists, would be considered a joke in the US.

But hey, maybe they are happier and get to spend more time with their families...
posted by GeorgeBickham at 2:31 AM on November 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Offer, dammit.
posted by GeorgeBickham at 2:50 AM on November 20, 2010


I see both sides. I'm conscious that we (well, most people in the West) have never had it so good and that we tend to eulogise the past. The last 20 years has seen amazing progress and this century will make or break mankind. But there is something wrong. There is something wrong with Capitalist culture and society that seems to make people unhappy -- unhappier than the past if the suicide rate is anything to go by. There is a great line in "Crash" when the mayor's spoilt wife says that she is "angry every day and wants it to stop". I don't know what and I don't know why, but there is a glitch in the machine.
posted by bobbyelliott at 12:00 PM on November 21, 2010


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