I have been re-reading Alain de Botton’s ‘STATUS ANXIETY’, which is a great book.

Here is Alain on Rousseau and what others now call ‘affluenza’…

Was it possible, asked Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his ‘Discourse on the Origin of Inequality’ (1754), that it might in fact be the savage and not – as everyone had grown used to thinking – the modern worker who was the better off of the pair?

Rousseau’s argument hung on a thesis about wealth: that wealth does not involve having many things. It involves having what we long for. Wealth is not an absolute. It is relative to desire. Every time we seek something we cannot afford, we grow poorer, whatever our resources. And every time we feel satisfied with what we have, we can be counted as rich, however little we may actually own.

There are two ways to make people richer, reasoned Rousseau: to give them more money or to restrain their desires. Modern societies have succeeded spectacularly at the first option but, by continuously inflaming appetites, they have at the same time helped to negate a share of their most impressive achievements. The most effective way to feel wealthy may not be to try to make more money. It may be to distance ourselves – practically and emotionally – from anyone whom we consider to be our equal but who has become richer than ourselves…

In so far as advanced societies provide us with historically elevated incomes, they appear to make us richer. But in truth, the net effect of these societies may be to impoverish us because, by fostering unlimited expectations, they keep open a permanent gap between what we want and what we can afford, who we are and who we might be.

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