My review of Affluenza by Clive Hamilton and Richard Denniss was in yesterday’s Fin (subscription only). Thanks to all who commented on the earlier draft.
One point that attracts a strong reaction whenever I make it refers to
the vigorous hostile reaction to arguments of this kind. Although this reaction is often phrased in terms of attacks on â€˜paternalismâ€™ or (switching genders) the â€˜Nanny Stateâ€™ it is notable that policy proposals for differential taxes on luxury goods attract far less hostility than do purely cultural critiques of excessive consumption. The former threaten only the hip pocket of luxury consumers, while the latter threatens their sense of self-worth.
The response is typically along the lines of “My self worth is fine: I just object to people giving me unsolicited advice to change my lifestyle.”
Well, let’s see. In the time it took me to, read the book, write this review and get it published, I’d say I received at least thirty phone calls from people suggesting that I needed their services in relation to mortgage refinancing, negatively geared investments, telephone plans and so on. I was presented with hundreds of advertisements on TV and the Internet suggesting that I should consume more of just about everything. Even walking down the street, I’m presented with billboards, direct solicitations and so on, all with the same message. And, then, of course, there’s spam. Yet half the blogosphere seems to be upset by the mere existence of a book suggesting they are spending too much.
I don’t object to the TV ads: if I want to watch AFL on TV, it has to be paid for, and the ads are part of the deal. And as long as I don’t get hit with sneaky pop-ups and so on, the same is pretty much true for Internet ads, though I tend to avoid ad-heavy sites, and only run into them by mistake. But if I accept TV and Internet ads a straightforward commercial transaction – my attention as long as the ads can hold it, in return for the content it’s bundled with – then the billboards, spammers and phone pests aren’t just annoyances, they’re thieves, trying to take my valuable attention without paying me for it.
With the exception of spammers and phone pests, I don’t have a strong objection to advertising in general, though some examples annoy me. Still, when I see people complaining about the coercive nature of Clive Hamilton’s arguments, I have to wonder if they’re living in the same country as I am.
fn1. I’ve signed up for the ADMA “Do not call” list, but this is purely voluntary, and doesn’t include most of the worst examples.