Lynley's Reviews > Affluenza: When Too Much is Never Enough

Affluenza by Clive Hamilton
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's review
Feb 24, 2012

it was ok
Read in February, 2012

Last year I read a book by the same title by British author Oliver James, which I thoroughly enjoyed, so I was interested to read more about affluenza in Australia.

There should be a special place reserved in hell for people who write in library books, and writing your marginalia in pencil is no better than writing in indelible ink, because nobody actually goes back and rubs out their pencil markings, do they? An officious (and I think elderly) person who'd borrowed this book before me had annotated paragraphs with ticks and crosses and may have thereby contributed to my overall feeling that this is a preachy book, drawing a distinct line between 'them' and 'us' - 'them' being 'young people today' and 'the rest of us'. I hate that. As someone who was born in 1978, on the cusp of Gen X and Gen Y, I'm never sure whether I count as a young, irresponsible person or as one of the old, sensible generation. I haven't yet worked out whether this feeling is particular to those of us born in the late seventies, or whether it's the nature of being in your early thirties - old enough to know better, but too young to understand what hardship is really like.

I suppose I shall find out in due course.

While I agree wholeheartedly with the underlying premise of this book - that as a society we are too materialistic - I didn't like the tone of it. Sure, lots of Australians need a kick up the bum when it comes to credit card debt, but I doubt such people are going to pick up this book and absorb the lecture. I ended up skipping most of that chapter. People who don't pay off their credit cards each month are hardly likely to respond to reason. The issue is far more complex than that.

It didn't take long for 'plasma TVs' to get a mention, as they always do when it comes to discussions of waste, wealth, youth and disgust. Yet this example only dates the book prematurely. Just try and buy a TV today that's *not* a big flat screen.

My distaste for the tone of this book began with the phrase 'too posh to push', which was offered as one example of Affluenza. Talk about a tenuous link. Besides, the phrase 'too posh to push' is one of those phrases I'd like to see go the way of 'nigger'. It's simply not helpful, and when it comes from two middle-aged men, it's heartily offensive. I know women who have had elective c-sections, but many, many more have had inevitable c-sections. I don't know a single woman who chose a c-section because she was concerned about losing her dignity during childbirth, or because she considered herself above it, as suggested by the phrase 'too posh to push'. There is absolutely no easy way to get a baby out of a woman, and a c-section is not the 'easy option'. Many women are absolutely terrified of birth, and many have good reason.

I could go on and on. Birth by caesarean has nothing to do with affluenza anyway.

The authors seem to have little idea about women and children's issues in general. On page 140 we have a bullet point list illustrating how 'welfare payments and tax concessions to Australia's middle class and the wealthy have become rife'. Number three on the list: 'The Federal Government pays parents $3000 (rising to $5000 in 2008) for each new baby. This will cost $3.5 billion over four years. No one asks why low-income taxpayers should fund a windfall for wealthy people who decide to have a baby'.

As with many things tax related, this entitlement was revised after the change of government. But what irks me is the phrase 'choose to have a baby'. For many parents, raising a family is less 'choice' and more 'drive' or even 'compulsion' (as depicted by Virginia Haussegger in Wonder Woman). I'm therefore wary of those who describe baby-making as a 'lifestyle choice'.

Yet on page 142, not two pages on, we have another little lecture about the corruption of values in our society in regards to working too hard and not making time to have babies: 'Even the most intimate and precious aspects of being human have been subtly transformed into the antithesis. Becoming a parent used to be something we did because it was part of the human condition; now it is a 'lifestyle choice', and it is the consumer approach to parenthood that the Howard Government has appealed to with its package of 'family-friendly' taxing and spending initiatives'.

So even though the authors display their own distaste for 'lifestyle choice', using the apostrophes as a sort of rubber glove to deal with a phrase rather unsanitary, they are seemingly unaware that not two pages prior they contradicted their very own view.

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