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China: Wealth and Its Discontents

Jim Yardley, New York Times
Guangzhou, the chaotic export capital in southern China, appeared to hit a major Chinese milestone this month, becoming the country’s first city to reach a per capita income of $10,000 — more than five times the nationwide figure and a rough threshold for becoming a “developed” country.

But in a measure of just how problematic prosperity can be here, the city will institute a ban on motorcycles and motorized bicycles on Monday, hoping to quell a crime wave that has been building to more than 100,000 offenses a year.

The vehicles, the primary mode of transport for migrant workers clawing their way up Guangzhou’s economic ladder, are also favored by criminals who have terrorized the city in recent years, including a shocking case in late 2005, when a woman had her hand cut off by a thief on a motorcycle. News accounts concluded that motorcycle thieves were divided into gangs, including one called the Hand Choppers.

…cities like Guangzhou and nearby Shenzhen, which have already begun to taste real prosperity, are learning how new wealth can bring new problems and not always solve the old ones. As incomes have risen in Guangzhou, so have crime, traffic and inequality.
(15 Jan 2007)

Advertisers: Your life is totally vile

Mark Morford, SF Gate
It is 2007 and it is the age of iPod-enabled baby strollers and whales that speak in dialects and caffeinated bar soap and therefore clearly the absolute worst problem facing you in this amazing Bush-torn war-sucking environmentally nasty religiously indignant kaleidoscopic dog pound of a capricious clammy hell-bound world is this: You have terrifically boring candles.

It is so true, isn’t it? Just look: There you sit, in your very own TV commercial, sighing heavily, the absolute epitome of the dejected and neglected housewife, what with your limp blouse and your bored expression and your utter lack of anything at all to think about because the kids are all zonked on Ritalin and your husband’s staying “late” at the office again, which of course translates into getting completely drunk after work as he does every night so as to escape your brutal numbing sighs.

And so you stare, dully, disconsolately, at the three white pillar candles on the table, each lit up and actually rather pretty and yet somehow deathly, miserably tedious, so boring you want to slice out your eyeballs with a cheese grater. After all, they are all white. They are all the same size. They just sit there. Oh my God (you ask yourself), what is wrong with the world of candles? What is wrong with me?

Enter the soothing TV voice-over. It shares your pain. It knows the depths of your tormented soul. It says, with a bizarre sort of sympathetic narrator’s dejection, “White candles can be so plain.” Wow, does that disembodied voice know you, or what?
(12 Jan 2007)

Earn more, spend more, want more

Oliver James, The Telegraph
In the first extract from his new book, psychologist Oliver James explains how the ‘affluenza’ virus can lead to insecurity and destroy personal relationships
…In the case of British people, I found that nearly a quarter have suffered from emotional distress such as depression, anxiety or psychosis in the past 12 months and there is strong evidence that a further quarter are on the verge thereof.

Affluenza is a significant factor. Two-thirds of Britons believe that they cannot afford to buy everything they really need, which shows how widespread the confusion has become between wants and needs.

Remarkably, nearly half of all people with annual incomes over £35,000 (average national income is £23,244 a year) felt this was true of them, as did 40 per cent of those earning more than £50,000.

Men with this latter income have been shown to be more prone to depression and anxiety than those who earned less.
(9 Jan 2007)
See also, part 2 Take a good look at yourself, and part 3 An end to the affluenza epidemic . James (also the author of They Fuck You Up: How To Survive Family Life) advises parents of schooling children, particularly girls, “Avoid being over-enthusiastic about her good exam results or her appearance – you could be instilling in her a desire for perfectionism, and triggering eating disorders and depression in her teenage years and beyond.” Likewise some researchers have found that giving rewards for good grades can have a counter effect. -AF

My cure for affluenza

Rachel Johnson, Sunday Times
…“Making money is a drug,” admits Felix Dennis, publisher and author of How to Get Rich, who with assets of up to £500m defines himself as one of the “filthy” rich. “Not the money itself. The making of the money . . . It’s pathetic.”

So there I was, en route from London (the capital of Mammon) to Yeovil (the capital of nowhere) to spend some time with those who have cracked this addiction, who have hopped off what the economists of happiness call the “hedonic treadmill”, in an eco-village in sleepy Somerset. This community, which has banned the internal combustion engine and fossil fuels, regards both GDP and the bank statement as hopeless measures of welfare.

At Paddington I called Mary, the single mother of two whom I was visiting. Mary lives in a house she built herself out of fir and larch and canvas, without a car or a television or white goods, on £20 a week.

…Well, I think you might have guessed where all this is heading, but here goes anyway. At the eco-village I felt lighter, more cheerful, less fluey, after finding people who, like Porgy, had plenty of nothing but for whom nothing was plenty. I told myself I would never buy anything ever again (even if my vow was made in the same way that I groan after Christmas lunch that I will never eat anything ever again).
(14 Jan 2007)

Bling can come with a horrific price

Sherri Winston, Sun Sentinel
…Conflict diamonds were why revolutionaries murdered hundreds, turned a million natives into refugees, and drove them from their homes while enslaving others to mine for diamonds….it made me wince to juxtapose the diamond-studded popularity among today’s black youth against the horrifying images of African youths swept from their mother’s arms to be warriors or slave labor.

What are we teaching our children, black and otherwise, about the cost of our freedom; the price of our culture?
(10 Jan 2007)
Ran Prieur says: “The nicest thing about growing up in the upper middle class is that now I have no desire to live that way again. Sometimes people who grow up poor have to waste their lives finding that out.” -AF