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Selfish Capitalist Paperback – December 18, 2008
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Top Customer Reviews
1) He argues that we need to move beyond thinking about mental illness and make the object of our study mental distress. To the extent there is an epidemic, the illness model and various theories of brain diseases, genetic influences and chemical imbalances are really not terribly helpful. The scientific proof is consistently lacking. While these theories serve mainly to enrich certain interests (e.g., big pharmaceuticals) while distracting us from the very real issues. These issues are really spiritual issues that emerged disproportionately in certain ideological contexts.
2) We need to ask ourselves why this epidemic seems to be confined to the English Speaking world (mainly UK, US, New Zealand and Australia).
James breaks out a separate species of Capitalism (Selfish Capitalism - The play with Dawkins is both intentional and enlightening) that could also go by the names of neoliberalism or the Washington consensus. Where neoliberalism has been given full reign (e.g. Australia) the epidemic of mental distress (depression, anxiety) has occurred. Where Selfish Capitalism has not (Denmark)been given into, the epidemic has not appeared. For example, women in Denmark are half as likely to be depressed as women in the English speaking countries mentioned above.
James is a careful thinker, he presents his theory, assembles the evidence, but, is also very aware of the limitations of the evidence. It is a book worth reading.
One flaw in production of the Kindle edition. This is the kind of careful argument where you really want to follow the sources. Unfortunately, the end notes are all structured by page references to (presumably) the print edition. I found this very frustrating, but still recommend the book.
In line with more orthodox thinking on Neo-Liberalism, James asserts that selfish capitalism is a phenomenon that has risen to prominence in the English-speaking world since the 1970's. While it has been a growing phenomena in other developed and non-developed countries, it is in the developed economies of the English speaking world that it goes deepest into the fabric our societies. Using data from WHO studies and other sources he demonstrates a clear correlation between income inequality (one of the pertinent and pernicious features of Neo-Liberal economies) and emotional distress. For the English-speaking world (Britain, U.S., Canada, New Zealand, Australia) the average incidence of emotional distress in the last 12 months is 21.6%, nearly double the level of other countries (Japan, Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Netherlands and France) that average 11.5%.
James questions the standard shoulder-shrugging view that is disproportionately popular amongst those on the right: that mental health problems are in large part of genetic origin. The evidence he cites seem to indicate that this link is greatly exaggerated and environmental factors are of crucial importance. He also presents a variety of data on related issues that raises serious questions about how our society is structured vis-à-vis materialism and how this effects our mental well being. One interesting fact he brings up is that the greater part of the growth of economies and household income in the Selfish Capitalist world results from an increase in second earners and hours worked.
The few people whom I have known that work in Psychology seem to get bogged down in their own specialty for a whole variety of reasons. They appear to be shy - certainly in their professional capacity - about making explicit links to the bigger picture of how society is organized. With that in mind, it is refreshing to hear a professional psychologist discussing these issues in a holistic manner and not avoiding issues that are generally seen to be in the political realm.
James makes clear that there are elements of his thinking that he is pretty convinced of, and others that he is fairly sure of, but does appreciate that more research is needed to confirm his and others hypothesis and provide a more detailed picture. Despite the, in part, tentative nature of his findings this is a fascinating book. A strong case is made for the need to question the manner in which our society is developing and the values it promotes if it is serious about the mental well being and real development of all people, rather than peculiarly attending to the interests (to quote Adam Smith) of the few whose wealth has risen geometrically while for most earners wages have barely risen at all. In common with his earlier works it is written in an accessible manner for those who are not academic psychologists. For those with a phobia of statistics they should be reassured that they are explained in a clear and straightforward way and have been leavened with a healthy dose of anecdotal material for further clarity. Well worth reading.