Redefining Richness

Amitai Etzioni writes for The New Republic (reprinted in Utne) about the ways in which our feelings and approaches to money are going to need to change in the new economy. From The Utne Reader:

[…] Several studies have shown that, across many nations with annual per capita incomes above $20,000, there is no correlation between increased income and increased happiness. In the United States since World War II, per capita income has tripled, but levels of life satisfaction remain about the same, while the people of Japan, despite experiencing a sixfold increase in income since 1958, have seen their levels of contentment stay largely stagnant. Studies also indicate that many members of capitalist societies feel unsatisfied, if not outright deprived, however much they earn and consume, because others make and spend even more.

True, it is sometimes hard to tell a basic good from a status good, and a status good can turn into a basic one (air-conditioning, for instance). However, it is not a matter of cultural snobbery to note that no one needs inflatable Santas or plastic flamingos on their front lawn or, for that matter, lawns that are strikingly green even in the scorching heat of summer. No one needs a flat-screen television, not to mention diamonds as a token of love or a master’s painting as a source of self-esteem.

Read the whole article — it’s worth it!

2 thoughts on “Redefining Richness

  1. Nice article, Kiersten. We can only hope our “flickering megalogue” about mindful consumption isn’t extinguished by the deluge of billions of advertising dollars corporations spend every year maintaining the ethos of consumerism.

  2. Boy, there’s a lot here.

    Yes, as a society, we need to re-think our values. Putting so much emphasis on money for its own sake is simpy sick. It’s nothing more than a treadmill.

    One of the things you always hear about Europeans is that they, well, enjoy their lives more. They take time to dine, rather than wolf down fat-laden fast food and head back to work.

    Europeans tend not to work so many hours, leaving time for other things like dining, or even dining with friends. Or spending time with family. Or…enjoying their life.

    Yes, I generalize. And, sadly, the differences are shrinking as other cultures are being sucked into the American-way maw.

    Why do we have to spend every stinkin’ waking hour working? How is that a good thing? What’s the whole thought-process behind 24/7? How stupid is that? A minor competetive advantage?


    I’ve seen first-hand the results of “aggresssive” (translation: ridiculous, impossible, foolish…) deadlines. It’s either extensions, or shoddy work, deliverabbles that don’t deliver, and never get fixed. Where’e the benefit?

    Worse. After three weeks of working 50 hours, a person accomplishes no more than s/he did working 40 hours. Efficiency erodes. So you’re working longer to get the same amount of work done. Not exactly bolstering productivity.

    Seriously. Where is the benefit? We kill ourselves–literally–for what benefit? To further enrich people at the top of the pyramid?

    Productivity has doubled in the past generation, but the average worker has not seen a nickel’s worth of the benefit. Those at the top, however, have seen their incomes increase by 37% This is all per David Cay Johnson in the NYT.

    We need a new communitarianism. Believing that “Greed is Good” is counterproductive.

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