Bring on the affluenza!

Maybe it’s just me, but almost every time I turn on the radio or open a newspaper these days, it’s Oliver James this and Oliver James that. When the pop psychologist and darling of the talk shows isn’t flogging his new book, going on about how capitalism is making us all miserable, and that the answer is to have the government lop a zero off house prices and nationalise estate agents, he’s accusing the British state and people of engaging in child abuse on a massive scale.

From James’ article in today’s Thunderer:

“For ten years I have been advising various elements of new Labour on how to improve the care of small children. Alas, almost everything the Government has done has been the opposite of what was needed. No wonder Britain came bottom of Unicef’s league table of the happiness and welfare of children in industrialised nations.”

This translates loosely as:

I went out of my way to warn you of the grave dangers to our great nation, but you wouldn’t listen to me, and now look at the terrible state we’re in. We should nationalise Tescos forthwith, and have the supermarkets sell only organic, wholesome produce at reduced prices, just like the state-owned Mercal stores in Venezuela. We should also nationalise Toys-R-Us, and ban the sale of trainers to the under 21s. You know it makes sense. My bank manager certainly thinks so.

To be fair, the same issue of the Times carries an editorial which argues that James’ so-called “affluenza” thesis is “unalloyed, ideological nonsense”.

James was interviewed twice this week on BBC Radio 4’s “You and Yours” consumer affairs programme. On the first day he went on about how Denmark was a country full of shiny happy people owing to high taxes and a chilled-out attitude to work. Really? In Sweden they pay even higher taxes than in Denmark, but are they any happier? Er, no, they most certainly are not.

I responded to the first Oliver James interview with a long email to the You and Yours team, in which I described my favourable experience of living and working in Denmark, and general impression of the Danish people. This resulted in the BBC inviting me to speak on yesterday’s programme, but I had to decline owing to a looming work deadline and a thousand words of copy as yet unwritten.

In my email to the BBC, I explained that the Danes are on the whole more individualistic than their British cousins. I also pointed out that, despite very high personal taxation, the income distribution in Scandinavia is not as flat as people like Oliver James and Polly Toynbee would have us believe.

Despite its extensive welfare state, Denmark is closer to the ideal of free market capitalism than is the UK, and the country’s economy is both dynamic and diverse. Britain’s current wealth, on the other hand, is based on a property and financial services bubble that could burst at any moment.

The UK has in the last few decades become more and more corporatist, its people paranoid and government authoritarian. I conjecture that it is these developments which cause the English, especially, to be so miserable. And they have only themselves to blame for this sorry state of affairs.

But conjecture is all my thesis amounts to. Is Oliver James’ argument about “affluenza” any different? Only in the sense that it’s been shown by numerous commentators to be seriously flawed. Perhaps I should write a book on Britain’s managerialist misery. A spot on Newsnight beckons.

Oliver James is yet another haute-bourgeois leftist who claims he knows what’s good for people, and demands that the state take action to implement and enforce an egalitarian society. His politics – for it is no longer academic psychology, if it ever was – is a mix of old-style Fabianism and protestant self-loathing.

Affluenza? Bring it on, I say. Afflict me with affluenza! A donation via the site tip jar would go a small way to making my life a materialist misery.