In This Review

After the Gold Rush: The Trouble with Affluence: 'Consumer Capitalism' and the Way Forward
After the Gold Rush: The Trouble with Affluence: 'Consumer Capitalism' and the Way Forward
By Stewart Lansley
Century, 1994, 269 pp
Purchase

Why is so much malaise associated with such general affluence? That is the topic of Lansley's book, written in Britain and drawing largely on British and European experience. The book's thesis is that while rapidly moving international events have gradually destroyed post-1945 verities, most of the malaise results from domestic rather than international influences, in particular from growing affluence itself as people have gradually lost their sense of community and moved toward competitive individualism and governments' ability to manage domestic economies and societies has eroded. The usual culprits -- growing unemployment, increased job insecurity, widening distribution of income -- are mentioned, but the key factor is that aspirations and expectations outran performance. Amid countless (usually misleading) reports of declining real wages, for instance, real consumption by the average American grew 51 percent between 1970 and 1993, only 4 percentage points of which can be a decline in savings. Consumption grew even more rapidly in Western Europe. Unfortunately the book offers no systematic explanation for why aspirations rose even more rapidly.