Whether the book is any good and/or useful or not is a question I'm not going to go into, but it's good to see the argument being raised. (And depressing, at the same time, that it's not thought of as Obvious Knowledge.) But there are some interesting points made in the article. The main point, namely, that we have a form of capitalism in the UK which is different that to on the continent, and which brings us more mental illness, such as depression.
There are three threads to this, which are somewhat picked out in the article...
1. Capitalism and the Individual: That is, Capitalism taps into an "inherent" desire by the individual - a desire for "Stuff". Stuff helps us do things, helps us to live, distracts us from other things. For instance, I like my teddy bear - it gives me emotional satisfaction even if "rationally" it is nothing but Stuffed Stuff. This is the individualistic level of capitalism, and is possibly why "retail therapy" is addictive, in the same way that drugs and drink are addictive. ("Some people say alcohol is a drug. It's not, it's a drink.")
2. Capitalism as an Indicator of Position: Power can be compared to a tree falling in the forest. An individual cannot have power in isolation - there must be a subject that this power extends over.
This picks apart the argument between capitalism as a "non-zero-sum" game - in which individuals are better off, even if others have more - and as a "zero-sum" game - in which people effectively have less when others have more, even if their own value has stayed the same. (For a lot more discussion on this, see here.) Retail Therapy and the individualism in point 1 can be considered an effect of a non-zero-sum game. But Power artefacts can be considered a zero-sum game effect. For me, the existence of inflation is a simple pointer to the latter as being more significant though: the more money someone else has, the less mine is worth. We are tied together through the value of our cash, and so it is not enough to simply have "more money". The crux of the matter is that it's important to have "more money than others".
And this is why money is power, is status. And why consumption, and Stuff, is important - because Stuff is a signal for how much money, and hence how much "power" we have over others. For example, if I can afford to buy expensive brand clothing, I can afford to eat more, and live longer.
The conssequences of this are explored below, in point 3. For now, just consider what this means for rising inequality in Britain.
3. Capitalism as a Norm: This is actually a combination, an "evolution" if you like, of themes 1 and 2. The article picks this up quite well. As Simon Wessely says:
"more human experiences" are seen as illnesses nowadays. In my trade, for example, states of sadness are now seen as 'depression', shyness has become 'social phobia', and all sorts of variations in childhood temperament, personality, emotions and behaviour have become characterised as diseases that need treatmentIndeed, maybe this is the bond that ties together the first 2 points - a re-definition of "normality" through a subtle yet significant - ubiquitous - usurping of Old values with New Ones. New Ones that posit twin snakes of "happiness" and "equality" as their foundation. If Capitalism had a motto, it would be "All Can Smile."
But it's this idealist posturing that forces us into a vicious circle. The trap is this: by placing utopia within "reachable grasp", it leaves us in a modern state of distopia at all other times. Throw in the idea of "progress" - technical mainly (moral progress is generally left alone for its sin of being unmeasurable) - and this distopia extends to a dark and continuous eternity. To state this distopia in 2 simple sentences:
1. If you have less Stuff than any other One Person, then you are unhappy.
2. Technological progress creates new Stuff.
Thus, not content with trying to keep up with the single Hamster Wheel of Inequality, we force ourselves to straddle another Wheel, that of progress. If one doesn't get you, the other surely will.
Enough of this for now. Hopefully the next post will look at the effects of networked capitalism on the subject.