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Books on Business: Cures for the 'affluenza' epidemic

Sunday, September 23, 2001

By the Business Librarians at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

"Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic" by John deGraff, David Wann and Thomas Naylor. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2001.

Two highly acclaimed PBS documentaries aired in 1996 and 1998, a time when Americans were prospering financially yet feeling emptier inside. This book continues the exploration of a condition for which the authors coined the word 'affluenza.'

This metaphor for a disease describes a "painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more." It can manifest itself as a shopping fever spiked by malls, or mail-order catalogs, home shopping channels, or the newest entry into the buying fray, online shopping.

Some Americans buy stuff so avidly that they are filling up their garages or renting storage lockers for the excess, even though the average size of new homes is double what it was in the '50s and families are getting smaller. These same shoppers (adults and children) are discovering that "possession overload" does not necessarily make them happier or feel better about themselves, and yet the easy availability of credit cards with higher and higher spending limits only feeds the frenzy.

An alarming number of families are following their "affluenza" right into a debt trap, and the resultant cost is high. New bankruptcy filings in the second quarter of 2001 are up 24.5 percent over the same period of just a year ago, according to the American Bankruptcy Institute. Engaging in this never-ending race to "keep up with the Joneses" can also have disastrous personal consequences; arguments about money are precipitating factors in 90 percent of divorce cases.

"Affluenza" also features a 50-question self-diagnostic test to reveal whether you have or are susceptible to this insidious condition.

If so, the good news is that recovery and cure are possible. The bad news is that while some of the proposed remedies are easy to take, others may be more difficult to swallow. We need to set aside more free time to relax, for creative thinking, and to spend more quality time with people we care about rather than spending more money at the mall. We must learn to identify our real needs, as opposed to what advertisers tell us we must have right now. The authors propose methods for making a difference in our communities and, our environment as a means to real fulfillment, and also outline steps to simplify our lives through examining and rearranging our priorities.

"Affluenza" is much more than just another diatribe against personal excess, and the authors freely admit that "the message of this book isn't to stop buying; it's to buy carefully and consciously with full attention to the real benefits and costs of your purchases, remembering, always, that the best things in life aren't things."

Also recommended is:

"Big Book of Corporate Identity Design," edited by David E. Carter. HBI, 2001.

Contact the business librarians, who also answer questions about business, money, and work, at 412-281-7141 or at http://www.carnegielibrary.org/clp/libctr/business.

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