Drawing extensively on the work of American psychologist Tim Kasser, [The Selfish Capitalist: The Origins of Affluenza by Oliver James] argues that our recent increased wealth has come at the cost of the emotional well-being of a large proportion of the population; rates of distress among women in the UK almost doubled between 1982 and 2000. This is true of New Zealand and Australia as well as the UK and the US, in striking contrast with more egalitarian and collectivist countries such as Denmark or Germany. He tracks how "selfish capitalism" generates insecurity and inflates comparisons; how a winner-takes-all competitiveness merely creates losers and a pandemic of low self esteem, with its compensatory pathologies around celebrity and status.
Remarkably, Erich Fromm, the Marxist psychoanalyst and Buddhist writer, foresaw much of this half a century ago and James quotes his prescient analysis of the "passive, empty, anxious, isolated person for whom life has no meaning" and who compensates through "compulsive consumption". There are interesting issues to draw out of Fromm’s work about how our mass consumer societies, ironically, cripple personal agency despite their avowals of individual choice….