You hear the refrain all the time: the U.S. economy looks good statistically, but it doesn’t feel good. Why doesn’t ever-greater wealth promote ever-greater happiness? It is a question that dates at least to the appearance in 1958 of The Affluent (富裕的) Society by John Kenneth Galbraith, who died recently at 97.
The Affluent Society is a modern classic because it helped define a new moment in the human condition. For most of history, “hunger, sickness, and cold” threatened nearly everyone, Galbraith wrote. “Poverty was found everywhere in that world. Obviously it is not of ours.” After World War II, the dread of another Great Depression gave way to an economic boom. In the 1930s unemployment had averaged 18.2 percent; in the 1950s it was 4.5 percent.
To Galbraith, materialism had gone mad and would breed discontent. Through advertising, companies conditioned consumers to buy things they didn’t really want or need. Because so much spending was artificial, it would be unfulfilling. Meanwhile, government spending that would make everyone better off was being cut down because people instinctively—and wrongly—labeled government only as “a necessary evil.”
It’s often said that only the rich are getting ahead; everyone else is standing still or falling behind. Well, there are many undeserving rich—overpaid chief executives, for instance. But over any meaningful period, most people’s incomes are increasing. From 1995 to 2004, inflation-adjusted average family income rose 14.3 percent, to $43,200. people feel “squeezed” because their rising incomes often don’t satisfy their rising wants—for bigger homes, more health care, more education, faster Internet connections.
The other great frustration is that it has not eliminated insecurity. People regard job stability as part of their standard of living. As corporate layoffs increased, that part has eroded. More workers fear they’ve become “the disposable American,” as Louis Uchitelle puts it in his book by the same name.
Because so much previous suffering and social conflict stemmed from poverty, the arrival of widespread affluence suggested utopian (乌托邦式的) possibilities. Up to a point, affluence succeeds. There is much les physical misery than before. People are better off. Unfortunately, affluence also creates new complaints and contradictions.
Advanced societies need economic growth to satisfy the multiplying wants of their citizens. But the quest for growth lets loose new anxieties and economic conflicts that disturb the social order. Affluence liberates the individual, promising that everyone can choose a unique way to self-fulfillment. But the promise is so extravagant that it predestines many disappointments and sometimes inspires choices that have anti-social consequences, including family breakdown and obesity (肥胖症). Statistical indicators of happiness have not risen with incomes.
Should we be surprised? Not really. We’ve simply reaffirmed an old truth: the pursuit of affluence does not always end with happiness.
【Group】52. What question does John Kenneth Galbraith raise in his book The Affluent Society?
(A) Why statistics don’t tell the truth about the economy.
(B) Why affluence doesn’t guarantee happiness.
(C) How happiness can be promoted today.
(D) What lies behind an economic boom.