The unhappiness economy

 - Arthur Dash
- Arthur Dash

Paolo Kernahan

Your unhappiness finances the happiness of the top one per cent.

The one per cent is often dismissed as some sort of mythical demographic conjured by work-oppressed masses.

But statistics bear out this preoccupation with an Illuminati-esque global upper crust hoarding vast wealth.

Some surveys suggest the richest one per cent hold 50 per cent of the world's wealth, while the sooty, poorest half own just 0.75 per cent. Eighty-one billionaires have more wealth than 50 per cent of the rest of us combined.

During the pandemic, while millions of working lives were furloughed, mothballed, idled, or altogether ended, some of the richest people on the planet more than doubled their wealth.

It doesn't take a PhD in economics to appreciate the depth of dysfunction in modern economies.

Many folks campaign passionately for more meaningful taxation of excessive opulence as a path to a modicum of balance. Rather than trying to claw back money through a dubious mechanism, wouldn't it be better to keep most of that money yourself?

Yes, billion-dollar businesses are often built on the backs of an underpaid and over-exploited workforce. However, a fair bit of the wealth accumulated by the mega-rich is handed over to them willingly by consumers through their profligate spending.

Global expenditure on entertainment and luxury goods soared into the trillions in 2023. People are spending more than ever on brand-name clothing, shoes, video games, live concerts, etc – the trappings of escapism.

Celebrities like Taylor Swift and Beyonce are billionaires – this is almost unfathomable considering the inherent value of their trade: they're just entertainers.

Value, though, is in the eye of the beholder. Millions of ordinary people with basic incomes fork over vast sums of money, not simply because of these stars' music. They spend because of how it makes them feel – giving them egress from the crucible of drudgery and unfairness, both real and perceived, of their everyday lives.

To be fair, many of us are almost defenceless against capitalist structures designed to extract maximum value out of the human substrate. A punishing daily commute, ever-rising costs, long hours with little respite – life is hard so people turn to copious consumption to combat the everyday hardships with which we are yoked.

Consumers have been trained on that feeling of euphoria – the immediate gratification of seeing a package turn up on your doorstep. This irresistible "need" has translated directly into financing Jeff Bezos' dreams of space travel and commissioning a yacht so large it can't be docked at a normal port. No one "needs" a 410-foot yacht, but then what else would you do with limitless wealth?

It goes without saying (but it will be said anyway) that not everyone has "disposable income" to be cavalierly thrown away on palliative purchases. There are countless people just seeing one month off and bracing for the next.

Consumerism is, however, a powerful force that transfers considerable wealth from people on the lower rungs to those far above the enslaved proletariat.

I'm not proselytising here from a state of grace. In my youth I worked long, hard hours...and many weekends. To cope with the pressures of my career, I frittered away a staggering amount of my modest earnings on entertainment and assorted nonsense.

Through rough calculation, I estimate that between my early 20s and 40s, I spent close to a quarter of a million dollars in the pursuit of happiness. That's a conservative estimate, I'm deeply ashamed to admit. It took me a long time to appreciate that chasing after contentment with untrammelled spending is like trying to grab smoke with your hands.

Still, I jumped into the consumerism trap long before the rise of the internet. Not only are people today phone-possessed, this device is a two-way portal. It feeds the life-oppressed host with false cures while giving them the means to purchase those "cures" with the tap of a thumb.

Happiness wasn't commoditised yesterday. A clear argument can, however, be made that it has more recently been weaponised through social media.

Online platforms aren't the culprit here, though. They've simply given businesses the means to further the modern capitalist imperative of infinite wealth.

Ironically, true "happiness" can probably be achieved through peace of mind – the financial stability that comes with holding on to more of what you earn. The billionaire class and mega-corporations will be just fine, even if you put your needs first.


"The unhappiness economy"

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