When having too much wealth can lead to affluenza


  • Business
  • Monday, 13 Feb 2012

I AM looking forward to the day when I can place the word affluenza on the Scrabble board.

Maybe I can use up all seven letters on my rack and get a triple word score as well. Which means I can finally occupy the top position for highest points scored in my home, where I am currently only in third spot after my two sons.

Affluenza is a combination of two words, affluence and influenza. The Oxford dictionary defines it as “a psychological malaise supposedly affecting wealthy young people, symptoms of which include a lack of motivation, feelings of guilt, and a sense of isolation.”

Strangely enough, although this word was supposedly coined by an Englishman in the 1970s, it is China that appears to be having the most serious case of affluenza these days.

But it is not really surprising when we consider the powerhouse that China is today.

We hear astounding stories about their amazing productivity and how millionaires are created almost daily.

For example, a recent article that caught the world's attention was about how a construction crew in the south-central Chinese city of Changsha completed a 15-storey hotel in just six days.

A survey by the Boston Consulting Group in mid-2011 revealed that China had more than a million millionaires as economic growth, savings and a strengthening currency helped swell their ranks by 262,000 from the year before.

Barclays Capital, quoted in a BBC report, said the country now bought 12% of the world's luxury goods and this was set to grow by 20% to 30% a year.

Which means that in five years' time China could be buying a third of the global luxury goods output.

This is where affluenza comes in. The increased levels of prosperity in any society, as many commentators have observed, do not appear to be able to deliver the kind of happiness or fulfilment that they seem to promise.

According to a report by the Xinhua news agency, which was published in this newspaper last Thursday, recipients of expensive, but unwanted gifts, are even turning to “gift-recycling” shops to get rid of the things they do not want.

The gifts include cigarettes, book vouchers, branded watches, fine wine and, of late, hot gadgets like smartphones and tablets.

In a nutshell, it really is impossible to give anything to anyone who already has everything.

The authorities in China are also worried that these are fronts for selling counterfeits, laundering money, and cashing in on bribes.

Positive stories about wealthy people usually grab the headlines while the attendant social issues relating to breakdowns in human relationships, corruption or environmental consequences are pushed into the background.

A man who strikes the jackpot in the lottery may have destroyed his family through his gambling addiction but he will nevertheless be praised for wanting to donate some of his winnings to charity.

Let's face it. For many people, in China or in Malaysia, the ultimate goal in life is the acquisition of greater wealth and power.

Never mind if by becoming materially rich, we end up being spiritually poor.

“When it is a question of money, everybody is of the same religion,” the great philosopher Volataire said. It's hard to disagree with that.

Deputy executive editor Soo Ewe Jin wonders why we still kid ourselves that Valentine's Day is a special day to shower love on our loved ones when it is really nothing more than commercial hype. Nevertheless, he wishes his wife a Happy Valentine's Day.

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