Book Review: 'Curing Affluenza' by Richard Denniss
'If people loved their things, cared for them, maintained and repaired them and then handed them on to others who did likewise, the global economy would be transformed, as would the impact of human activity on the natural environment'
This book inspired the concept of mindful materialism and inspired me to start this blog. If you’re not well-versed in economic lingo, never fear. While this is a book written by a leading Australian economist, Denniss breaks down what he calls ‘econobabble’ so the everyday person (or arts student like myself) can follow along.
I first heard of the book on Clare Press’s Wardrobe Crisis Podcast when she interviewed Denniss. I appreciated how bluntly he spoke, with logical arguments and a straight-forward approach (I also appreciate the dry sarcasm). He made economic theories accessible and applicable.
One of the key distinctions made in the book is between consumerism and materialism. I had always veered away from identifying as a materialist because I associated the word with being shallow, vain and exclusive. But Denniss reclaims the word and argues we should all be materialists. He points to the actual meaning of the word, rather than its associations; materialism is the love of material things. Whereas consumerism is the love of consuming.
So his argument follows that if we all loved the material things in our lives a bit more and looked after them, we would cease to lead a consumerist life. We would be satisfied with what we have rather than crave what we don’t. We would be less inclined to replace things which don’t need replacing. We would save our money and invest less in stuff and more in experiences.
Denniss leads a team of researchers and hosts events and guest speakers as the chief economist at The Australia Institute – an independent thinktank which errs on the left side of politics, publishing research on public policy and economic reform. As he is an Australian economist, the book is situated in an Australian political and economic context, but the theories are still broadly applicable. If you're interested in his political views, I'd recommend
reading Dead Right: How Neoliberalism Ate Itself and What Comes Next. This longform essay is a bit more technical and theoretical but was still an enjoyable read.
Overall, Curing Affluenza inspired me to consider how I choose to spend my money – because after all, it is a choice – and to reconsider how I declutter. Up until recently I’d been an avid declutterer, but I was also a shopaholic… so the decluttering was merely making room for more stuff. But Curing Affluenza targets this need for stuff at the source. I think that’s something we can all learn from.
Denniss, Richard. Curing Affluenza, Black Inc. 2017.
Photo by Elena McGannon