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Affluenza, a portmanteau of affluence and influenza, is a term used by critics of consumerism. The 2001 book Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic defines it as "a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more."[1] The term "affluenza" has also been used to refer to an inability to understand the consequences of one's actions because of financial privilege, notably in the case of Ethan Couch.[2]


  • Theory 1
  • In Australia 2
  • Notable incidents 3
  • Trademark 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7
  • External links 8


In 2007, British psychologist Oliver James asserted that there was a correlation between the increasing nature of affluenza and the resulting increase in material inequality: the more unequal a society, the greater the unhappiness of its citizens.[3] Referring to Vance Packard's thesis The Hidden Persuaders on the manipulative methods used by the advertising industry, James related the stimulation of artificial needs to the rise in affluenza. To highlight the spread of affluenza in societies with varied levels of inequality, James interviewed people in several cities including Sydney, Singapore, Auckland, Moscow, Shanghai, Copenhagen and New York.

In 2008 James wrote that higher rates of mental disorders were the consequence of excessive wealth-seeking in consumerist nations.[4] In a graph created from multiple data sources, James plotted "Prevalence of any emotional distress" and "Income inequality," attempting to show that English-speaking nations have nearly twice as much emotional distress as mainland Europe and Japan: 21.6 percent vs 11.5 percent.[5] James defined affluenza as "placing a high value on money, possessions, appearances (physical and social) and fame", which was the rationale behind the increasing mental illness in English-speaking societies. He explained the greater incidence of affluenza as the result of 'selfish capitalism', the market liberal political governance found in English-speaking nations as compared to the less selfish capitalism pursued in mainland Europe. James asserted that societies can remove the negative consumerist effects by pursuing real needs over perceived wants, and by defining themselves as having value independent of their material possessions.

In Australia

Clive Hamilton and Richard Denniss's book, Affluenza: When Too Much is Never Enough, poses the question: "If the economy has been doing so well, why are we not becoming happier?"[6]:vii They argue that affluenza causes overconsumption, "luxury fever," consumer debt, overwork, waste, and harm to the environment. These pressures lead to "psychological disorders, alienation and distress,"[6]:179 causing people to "self-medicate with mood-altering drugs and excessive alcohol consumption."[6]:180

They note that a number of Australians have reacted by "downshifting" — they decided to "reduce their incomes and place family, friends and contentment above money in determining their life goals." Their critique leads them to identify the need for an "alternative political philosophy," and the book concludes with a "political manifesto for wellbeing."[7]

Notable incidents

In December 2013, State District Judge Jean Boyd sentenced a North Texas teenager, Ethan Couch,[8][9] to 10 years 'probation for driving under the influence and killing four pedestrians and injuring 11[10] after his attorneys successfully argued that the teen suffered from affluenza and needed rehabilitation, and not prison. The lawyers had argued that Couch was unable to understand the consequences of his actions because of his financial privilege.[11] The defendant had been witnessed on surveillance video stealing beer from a store, driving with seven passengers in a Ford F-350 stolen from his father, speeding (70 miles per hour (110 km/h) in a 40 miles per hour (64 km/h) zone). Couch was also driving drunk and while under sedation with Valium; he had a blood alcohol content of .24%, three times the legal limit for an adult in Texas.[12] At a February 5, 2014, hearing, Eric Boyles, whose wife and daughter were killed in the crash, said, "Had he not had money to have the defense there, to also have the experts testify, and also offer to pay for the treatment, I think the results would have been different."[13]

In September 2015, then-29-year-old Marco Muzzo of King, Ontario, drove drunk and crashed his SUV onto a minivan, which was carrying six members of a family. The crash occurred at the intersection of Kipling Avenue and Kirby Road in Vaughan, Ontario, a suburb north-northwest of Toronto. He killed three grandchildren and their grandfather inside the minivan, as well as injured two other family members in that minivan. Muzzo faced 18 charges, including impaired driving causing death and dangerous driving causing death. He belonged to one of Canada's richest families, with a net worth of approximately C$1.7 billion in 2015, so this incident caught Canada-wide media attention amid the 2015 federal election.[14]


B.I.M. Imaging holds a trademark for stickers, clothing, eyewear, and sticker albums bearing the word "affluenza".[15]

See also


  1. ^ Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic, John de Graaf, David Wann & Thomas H. Naylor, 2001 ISBN 1-57675-199-6
  2. ^ Dart, Tom (6 February 2014). "Texas teenager suffering 'affluenza' avoids jail for second time".  
  3. ^ James, Oliver (2007). Affluenza: How to Be Successful and Stay Sane.  
  4. ^ James, Oliver (2008). The Selfish Capitalist.  
  5. ^ James, Oliver (2007). "Appendix 2: Emotional Distress and Inequality: Selfish vs Unselfish Capitalist Nations". Affluenza: How to be Successful and Stay Sane. London: Vermilion. p. 344.  
  6. ^ a b c Clive Hamilton; Richard Denniss (2005). Affluenza: When Too Much Is Never Enough. Allen & Unwin.  
  7. ^ "A manifesto for wellbeing". 
  8. ^ Payne, Will (16 December 2013). "EXCLUSIVE - Sins of the 'affluenza' boy's parents: Millionaire father and mother of teen let off despite killing four in DUI crash have been accused of more than TWENTY crimes and traffic violations". Daily Mail (London). 
  9. ^ "What's the future for 'affluenza' defenses?". 
  10. ^ Caulfield, Philip (2013-12-11). "Texas rich kid who killed 4 in drunken car crash spared jail". New York Daily News ( Retrieved 2013-12-17. 
  11. ^ Neil, Martha (6 February 2014). "‘Affluenza’ teen on probation for fatal crash is sent to pricey rehab". American Bar Association. Retrieved 7 February 2014. 
  12. ^ "‘Tax Dollars Used to Pay Affluenza Teen's Rehab". KFDX Texoma's Homepage. 14 April 2014. Retrieved 14 April 2014. 
  13. ^ "Tax Dollars Used to Pay Affluenza Teen's Rehab". TEXOMASHOMEPAGE. 
  14. ^ "Vaughan car crash: Marco Muzzo faces 18 charges after 3 siblings, grandfather killed". 29 September 2015. 
  15. ^ "AFFLUENZA Trademark of Nicholas Michael Iliades - Registration Number 4527325 - Serial Number 86143899 :: Justia Trademarks". 

Further reading

  • The Circle of Simplicity, Cecile Andrews, ISBN 0-06-092872-7
  • The Golden Ghetto: The Psychology of Affluence, Jessie H. O'Neill, ISBN 978-0-9678554-0-0
  • Voluntary Simplicity, Duane Elgin, ISBN 0-688-12119-5
  • Voluntary Simplicity, Daniel Doherty & Amitai Etzioni, ISBN 0-7425-2066-8
  • How Much Is Too Much? Raising Likeable, Responsible, Respectful Children-From Toddler to Teens- In an Age of Overindulgence, Clarke, Jean Illsly, Bredehoft, David & Dawson, Connie, ISBN 978-0-7382-1681-2

External links

  • PBS Show: Affluenza
  • Macquarie Dictionary Word of the Year Winners: Affluenza
  • Oliver James website
  • The Affluenza Project
  • Affluenza issues in the USA
  • Overindulgence Research
  • Affluenza video
  • A film clip "The Open Mind - Affluenza (1984)" is available for free download at the Internet Archive
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