Progressive politics, ideas & culture


Positional Wealth – The Rebel Sell lectures, part 3

This Magazine Staff

Chapter 4 of The Rebel Sell, “I Hate Myself and Want to Buy,” really starts to get into the meat of the argument. I love the stat Heath and Potter quote, that past $10,000 per capita GDP, one observes no measurable gains in ‘happiness’ among the richer populations of the world – happiness being, apparently, not something money can buy. Who knew?

In other words, it’s easier to be happy when you can buy food and have a roof over your head, than when you cannot do these basic things, but once you have nudged yourself beyond crippling poverty, finding fulfillment and joy in life might just have more to do with blue sky and flowers than that latest Gap sweater. And still, we buy, because Sarah Jessica Parker and Lenny Kravitz tell us to.

A couple of small points of contention for any lurking Rebel Sell authors:

I reject the use of the SUV in your argument regarding competitive consumption. Most deadly accidents involving SUV’s are single car rollovers, so the dumb SUV driver is usually the only one to die. Yes, those idiotic large car/truck mutants seem like a danger to small car drivers, but the numbers are no worse with them on the road than without them, and that “feeling” of safety SUV drivers love so much is a horrible, ironic lie. See Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker piece on SUV’s from last year. The safest vehicle on the road remains the VW Jetta, a tiny little thing with superior handling.

On the question of “positional” value – the worth of something being tied to its relative rareness or hard-to-getness… is it not possible to decide to reject positional value without rejecting consumerism in general? An expensive gym membership gives me, literally, no more real value than does my dirt-cheap community centre pass. I don’t go to the CC to feel cool or alternative. I go because it is wildly inexpensive, close to my home and relatively uncrowded what with all the other fitness consumers going to Bally’s downtown.

Show Comments