Selfish capitalism is bad for our mental health

Posted on

Oliver James has a fascinating piece in the Guardian today to coincide with the publication of his book "Selfish Capitalism". I've not read that yet, but I have read his previous book, Affluenza, and recommend it.

As he says of his new book:

By far the most significant consequence of "selfish capitalism" (Thatch/Blatcherism) has been a startling increase in the incidence of mental illness in both children and adults since the 1970s.

As I report in my book, The Selfish Capitalist - Origins of Affluenza, World Health Organisation and nationally representative studies in the United States, Britain and Australia, reveal that it almost doubled between the early 80s and the turn of the century. These increases are very unlikely to be due to greater preparedness to acknowledge distress - the psychobabbling therapy culture was already established.

Add to this the astonishing fact that citizens of Selfish Capitalist, English-speaking nations (which tend to be one and the same) are twice as likely to suffer mental illness as those from mainland western Europe, which is largely Unselfish Capitalist in its political economy. An average 23% of Americans, Britons, Australians, New Zealanders and Canadians suffered in the last 12 months, but only 11.5% of Germans, Italians, French, Belgians, Spaniards and Dutch. The message could not be clearer. Selfish Capitalism, much more than genes, is extremely bad for your mental health. But why is it so toxic?

As he goes on to note:

Readers .. will need little reminding that Selfish Capitalism has massively increased the wealth of the wealthy, robbing the average earner to give to the rich. There was no "trickle-down effect" after all.

The real wage of the average English-speaking person has remained the same - or, in the case of the US, decreased - since the 1970s. By more than halving the taxes of the richest and transferring the burden to the general population, Margaret Thatcher reinstated the rich's capital wealth after three postwar decades in which they had steadily become poorer.

His diagnosis is:

What does the damage is the combination of inequality with the widespread relative materialism of Affluenza - placing a high value on money, possessions, appearances and fame when you already have enough income to meet your fundamental psychological needs. Survival materialism is healthy. If you need money for medicine or to buy a house, becoming very concerned about getting them does not make you mentally ill.

But Selfish Capitalism stokes up relative materialism: unrealistic aspirations and the expectation that they can be fulfilled. It does so to stimulate consumerism in order to increase profits and promote short-term economic growth. Indeed, I maintain that high levels of mental illness are essential to Selfish Capitalism, because needy, miserable people make greedy consumers and can be more easily suckered into perfectionist, competitive workaholism.

As he say:

We desperately need a passionate, charismatic, probably female leader who advocates the Unselfish Capitalism of our neighbours. The pitch is simple. Not only would reduced consumerism and greater equality make us more ecologically sustainable, it would halve the prevalence of mental illness within a generation.

I agree.

The Right Wing are of course out in force on the Guardian web site trying to rubbish what Oliver James has to say, largely using the facts of increased material well being. All of which shows they can count but know nothing of value, and that they can't or aren't willing to read James' article.

That article does of course exclude argument for one obvious policy we must commit to if we are to see increased well-being in the English speaking developed world, and that is progressive taxation, something we do not have at present.