Monday, 4 June 2007

what is "rich" anyway?

Yesterday's blog about wealth isn't the whole story. In Australia and elsewhere in the western world, we've never had it so good, yet it's not doing us any good.

Real income trebled in Australia (The Age), and more than doubled in the US (SMH), in the second half of the twentieth century, yet surveys indicate people are no happier.

In Australia, people are working longer hours than they did a few decades ago. 35% of male and 19% of female full time workers put in more than 50 hours a week, and a third work "unsocial" hours which take them away from families on weekends. About half of the overtime hours are not paid. "Australians work some of the longest hours in the industrialised world." writes Adele Horin in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Photo: Webshots

Elsewhere in the SMH, Australia is described as "one of the world's most intensely work-focused countries", yet at great human cost.

  • A recent report by Paul Shepanski found a strong link between long and unpredictable work hours and the breakdown of family and other relationships. "People are feeling that, despite all this wealth, there is something rotten in the system."
  • Housing affordability is at its lowest in 30 years (B van Wanrooy).
  • While wages are increasing in real terms, they are falling as a percentage of overall wealth, as business profits take an increasing percentage of the gains (Ross Gittins).

What is the remedy? Surely it is for each of us to be clearer about our goals. If we value family, or life generally, more than wealth, then maybe we should try to structure our lives accordingly. If increasingly large houses with rooms and spas we don't need, filled with wide-screen plasma TVs that don't enhance junk programs and other material possessions don't make us any happier, why do we keep swallowing the lie and working long hours to buy them all? Read more about what makes people happy.

Of course it's sometimes easier said than done, but realisation is the first step. Meanwhile, three quarters of the world, who lack so much that we think is essential, look on with amazement.


  1. Stumbled across your blog today.

    That is the age old question that you ask mate. Sadly business is what seems to call the shots, with people living beyond their means. As for business, to hell with the consequencies is their motto.

    Nice place you have here i will read again. Cheers!

  2. Yeah, understandable, but possibly a trap.

    The research shows that if you really need money for necessities, then getting it will help you and make you happier. But if it isn't actually essential, it won't make you much happier for long, and then you'll want more, and wishing for it will make you much unhappier.


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