The First World is fat but not happy, and its consumerist ways are spreading like an epidemic to the farthest reaches of the globe.
Poverty is a reality even in America, write Harvard School of Public Health researchers Kawachi and Kennedy. But, they maintain, “in an affluent society such as the United States, there are diminishingly few things that the poor cannot afford that would make a difference between life and death.” In other words, the economic challenge most Americans face today is not having the wherewithal to get things that they need, but instead having the means to get the things they want: a second television, perhaps, or a boat, or a house in the Hamptons. However, this unprecedented success comes at a cost in terms of social equity and the distribution of goods and services around the world: 200 years ago, the difference in per-capita income between the richest nation, the United Kingdom, and the poorest, China, was a mere $1,200 (in dollars adjusted to 1990), whereas today the difference between the richest nation, the US, and the poorest, Sierra Leone, is more than 25 times that. Inequality is also on the rise within the First World, with wealth concentrated in fewer and fewer hands: in the US, “the incomes of the bottom 60 percent of households have stagnated in real terms during the last twenty-five years, whereas the rich have continued to pull ahead.” This inequality, the authors suggest, is something of a disease and in all events has not made the rich any happier, for all their shiny toys; rather, the uneven distribution of wealth yields isolation in the form of gated communities, social angst in the fear of falling behind, and bigger and bigger waistlines as Americans of all social classes become more and more indolent.
More diagnosis than prescription, but the epidemiological view of swollen-wallet sickness makes for highly interesting reading.