Oliver James on Affluenza Again.

The paperback version of his book must be coming out as he\’s got another piece in the G about it:

In itself, this economic inequality does not cause mental illness. WHO studies show that some very inequitable developing nations, like Nigeria and China, also have the lowest prevalence of mental illness.

Glad we\’ve got that little correction for when the hardback came out I pointed something out:

But the assertion that it is inequality that causes the madness is what appears to be — if I can use the word — insane. Economists measure inequality using the Gini coefficient. A value of one means that one person has everything, the others nothing, while a value of zero means the equality of the grave. Denmark does have a low one by international standards, 0.247; the UK 0.36, the US 0.408. However, in a small problem for James, that for China is 0.447 and that for Nigeria is 0.506 (all World Bank figures, 2004).

But other than that it\’s the same old James. Capitalism makes us all depressed, boo hoo hoo.

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.

Relative materialism? What is this other than a fancy name for keeping up with the Joneses? And does anyone really believe that this is something "caused" by capitalism? Or that it\’s something innate in human beings which capitalism allows the expression of? But my favourite part of the argument is this:

With overstimulated aspirations and expectations, the entrepreneurial fantasy society fosters the delusion that anyone can be Alan Sugar or Bill Gates, never mind that the actual likelihood of this occurring has diminished since the 1970s. A Briton turning 20 in 1978 was more likely than one doing so in 1990 to achieve upward mobility through education.

We\’re, umm, using a Harvard dropout and a man who left school at 16 as examples of upward mobility by education?

It is to giggle.

5 thoughts on “Oliver James on Affluenza Again.”

  1. It’s even an exaggeration to say that capitalism allows the expression of “relative materialism”. This instinct, aka the conspicuous display of wealth, was one reason why development was so slow in the middle ages – there was a pronounced ethic of wasteful ostentation that inhibited reinvestment. Capitalism has mitigated this.

    And while you’re quite right to point out the educational histories of Gates and Sugar, the fall in upward mobility through education has been brought about by changes James would approve of – abolition of grammar schools and the direct grant, and so on.

  2. “Relative materialism” is a clumsy way of saying “envy”. In the past we used to regard it as a fault, not a pretext for social engineering.

  3. People looking for social class mobility may be framing the question wrongly. Class status is usually transmitted across generations because IQ is predictive of status and IQ is hereditary (mostly) but there is mobility on the basis of IQ.

    There are pretty big IQ differences between social classes (I think about 15 IQ points, 1 standard deviation, between social class 1 professional and 2 unskilled).

    Follow-up studies on IQ measured in childhood, and adult class/ wealth have shown that IQ is a good predictor of adult wealth and social status (of course there are other factors too – personality for example). And IQ is mostly hereditary (although with an average c. 15 IQ points/ 1 SD spread among siblings).

    The hereditary nature of IQ, and the tendency for people to marry spouses of similar IQ (assortative mating) means that social class is broadly hereditary.

    A study by my colleague Daniel Nettle found that it didn’t seem to matter what class you were born into (as classified by father’s occupation) . High IQ people from lower social classes were upwardly mobile, and low IQ people from higher social classes were downwardly mobile, on average.

    Pleasingly, people born with a higher IQ than usual for their class did not seem to be prevented from upward mobility, not at all. So, on the whole, the UK seems to operate as a socially-mobile meritocracy – at least so far as IQ is concerned.

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