47 pages 1 hour read

John de Graaf, David Wann, Thomas Naylor


Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 2001

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Summary and Study Guide


Affluenza seeks to diagnose and treat the disease of overconsumption that its three authors, John de Graaf, David Wann and Thomas H. Naylor, believe to be a serious threat to both the human species and the rest of the planet. Accordingly, the book is divided into three main parts: a discussion of the symptoms of affluenza, an analysis of its causes, and suggestions for some possible cures.

In Part 1, the authors offer a broad overview of the hazardous symptoms of affluenza manifest in both the United States and abroad. Their contention is that modern consumer culture is defined by a relentless drive for material possessions fueled by overwork and an unsustainable use of our finite natural resources. Despite the emphasis on economic growth and development from across the political spectrum, the authors argue that our existing economic model produces a number of harmful effects, from health and relationship issues to the imminent possibility of catastrophic climate change. By connecting an array of contemporary social and environmental problems to affluenza, the authors hope to show that its negative consequences far outweigh its supposed benefits.  

Part 2 moves on to discuss some causes of affluenza: how did we, as a society, get into such a precarious position? The authors provide a wide-ranging historical narrative that covers past criticisms of materialism, the labor movement in the United States, and the acceleration of consumer culture and advertising after the conclusion of the Second World War. The aim of these chapters is to show that affluenza is not a necessary component of human nature, but the result of a particular historical process that can still be reversed.

Finally, Part 3 offers some cures or solutions to the disease of affluenza. Once again, the variety of topics is quite extensive. The authors provide several different examples of individuals and organizations that have broken with the status quo of our culture by building a lifestyle around the reduction of consumption and waste. In place of these material values, the authors recommend a different kind of inner, spiritual fulfillment that can come from sources as diverse as the natural world and alternative economic systems that privilege sharing and cooperation over possession and competition. In addition, the authors list a number of policy ideas that they believe governments should adopt in order to foster a more humane and sustainable way of life.

On the whole, then, Affluenza seeks to provide a multi-faceted criticism of overconsumption with an optimistic take on how certain people are already taking steps to positively change our world. We need only follow in their path to rid ourselves of affluenza.