The Guardian

The Guardian July 18, 2001


Culture and Life

by Rob Gowland

Money, money, money

What does it take to make people happy? Under capitalism, that question 
is usually, indeed stridently, answered with some variation of the term 
"riches". Surely, capitalist ideologues argue, that with a big house, 
plenty of spending money, a Merc in the garage, a pool and room for a pony 
you would have to be happy. In fact, capitalism uses every means at its 
disposal to extol the virtues of just such a world view.

From movies to TV series, from lotteries to TV quiz shows, from casinos to 
"business opportunities seminars", the achievement of wealth is equated 
with success: the one always brings the other, and happiness is the result.

But this is demonstrably not so. While poor people unquestionably have 
plenty more reasons to be miserable than rich people, it is not money that 
brings happiness.

What capitalism claims as the beneficial effect of having wealth is 
actually a series of freedoms: freedom from want, freedom from fear, 
freedom to express yourself creatively, and above all the freedom to work 
for the advancement of the human condition (no matter in how small a 
capacity) rather having to work at whatever you can get in order to live.

Capitalism says these freedoms are a concomitant of wealth, but they are 
not. In truth, that wealth is generally accumulated by trampling on those 
very freedoms.

The wealthy minority enjoys the trappings of happiness: they have no 
worries about food, shelter, education for their children, etc. They are 
able to live a full cultural life, take regular holidays, travel, be 
stimulated.

But always they are "worried that the masses who do not enjoy these 
privileges might rise up and rearrange society so that they can". And since 
the happiness of the wealthy minority is based on having the mass of the 
people labour for them rather than for themselves, they take steps to 
ensure the masses don't rise up.

One of those steps is to inculcate in every possible way the idea that the 
only road to happiness is through the acquisition of wealth (and 
everything it can buy). Alternative visions of how humanity can achieve a 
state of happiness are ridiculed. That some of them deserve to be ridiculed 
only serves to help capitalism's spin-doctors to dismiss them all.

That being poor is not a joyful experience is self-evident. By harping on 
the joys of being well off, and simultaneously burying any alternative 
concept of society, capitalism tries  with considerable success  to 
brainwash people into believing that money really is the source of 
happiness.

And yet, to accept that reasoning is to accept the idea that happiness for 
the majority will prove forever elusive. And who would want to accept that?

Despite capitalism's best propaganda efforts, the majority of people, if 
asked, will still agree that money can't buy happiness. Most would probably 
also agree, however, that "it's the next best substitute".

So persistent is the belief that money cannot buy happiness, and so 
constant is capitalism's assertion that having material possessions is" 
happiness, that two academics from the University of Newcastle actually 
conducted a study on it.

Shaun Saunders and Don Munro studied four groups of people randomly picked 
from a regional telephone directory.

Judging by newspaper reports, they did not investigate whether there was a 
flaw in the capitalist concept of what constituted happiness, or whether 
there are alternatives, but only whether you can achieve happiness through 
having possessions.

Even within this limited frame of reference, their findings would give 
little comfort to capitalism's army of propagandists. They found that, far 
from bringing happiness, a craving for material possessions could just make 
you "angry and depressed".

Dr Saunders told the media that it "came as no surprise" that money could 
not buy happiness. However, he pointed out that this "truism" has not 
previously been supported by much in the way of scientific evidence.

"If your self-worth is invested in what you own, as can be the case in our 
market-driven society, then these things may not hold their value", he 
said.

The rich were never worthy of our respect. Now it has been shown 
scientifically that they don't even merit our envy.

* * *
A sip of reactionary poison Former Chilean dictator and mass murderer Pinochet remains the pin-up boy of reactionaries everywhere. The Blair Government, enthusiastic about trying and jailing Slobodan Milosevic, successfully wriggled out of trying Pinochet for undoubted crimes against humanity. Now the Chilean government has let him go, for "health reasons", which means there will not be a public airing of his crimes and his subordinates can breathe freely too. Meanwhile, Pinochet's eldest son is marketing a wine label using his father's name and picture on the label. He is exporting it to supermarkets in the US, especially in Miami that, besides having a large anti-communist Cuban emigre population also has a substantial rightwing Chilean emigre community. Presumably they buy mainly white wine. Pinochet Red would not seem very marketable.

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