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3.8 out of 5 stars31
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on 4 February 2010
Well ones thing for sure, Oliver James must be doing something right - he's obviously irritated some individual enough for them to post five 1-star reviews of his book. Needless to say not one of which would appear to have the resulted from an actual reading of the book - well maybe they read the blurb on the back cover?. "The Selfish Capitalist" is a post-script to his earlier Affluenza and contains further thoughts and data related to the effects of what James calls "selfish capitalism" (more or less a synonym for Neo-Liberalism) on our societies. He also reflects on what other writers and political thinkers from Karl Marx to David Harvey have had to say about his area of investigation: the links between the mental health of individuals and the economic organization of society.

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.
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on 12 January 2009
It stands to reason that the 'neo-liberals', who have benefitted from 'selfish capitalism' and the influence of materialism on the more disadvantaged as well benefitting from a privileged and protectionist education, have taken advantage of their small but wealthy number and swiftly launched an internet campaign against Mr James and have employed their usual methods of claiming intellectual obscurity equals validity, whereas selling a few articulate and well written books criticizing existing economic and systemic structures, thereby upsetting the powerful minority, somehow means its author's success is somehow linked to the problems he identifies and that he is a hypocrite. Maybe the publishers should put an old dusty cover on the thing and restrict it to a few ancient private libraries.

I assure you, being fairly well-read, that anything less than 3 stars must be purely self-interest because the book is at a minimum absorbing. Propaganda, selectively or badly researched material, by the way, is always boring because it is impossible to extrapolate an interesting argument from references which we know not to be true. Oliver describes the world most of us inhabit and it makes sense.

The reason I have chosen to attack other reviews is that they are imbalanced and misleading and are indicative of a (for want of a better phrase) neo-liberal tactic to constantly claim 'we know better because we get straight to the point and are pragmatic. You can't trust these foreign speaking idealist who have brought us war over the centuries. Besides, it's badly researched and the author has appeared on TV, so he's basically a celebrity chav'. I am not sure if I have seen a book so harshly condemned by so many (with a similar writing style coincidentally), but which has been so intensely read, judging by the 'helpful - yes' votes. However, this is a form of jealous weak intellectual bullying designed to stifle real debate. Especially the badly researched jibe - I mean how well do you want something to be researched - until one finds facts which are not really there? That's what neo-conservatives do when they persuade there are chemical weapons in a country when there are not, but that's also what any establishment worth its salt says - don't trouble your little minds about it - leave it to us. It's why they undermine the study of psychology when they are part of it gaze (sorry for that psycho term!), unable to see its virtues and comprehending it as having the same money-making motives with which they perceive the world.

Idealism has gone out of vogue until now and the economic crisis is forcing us to re-examine such theories and those of Keynes. Origins of Affluenza is, granted, riding on a current wave of thinking which is asking how we have got to this point in economic history, in which we are constantly aware and brainwashed by images of wealth and are depressed as a result. These arguments as well as our universally plummeting share prices are forcing us to redress these questions. Only the deluded rich could disagree with that.

Oliver's statistics are remarkable and not very difficult to understand. They speak for themselves. His ability to argue cogently and draw logical conclusions based on his psycho-analytical background is eye-opening. But most of all the book is a critical analysis and is far from an attempt to drum up more business for the psychotherapy profession. It is not a 'self-help' book, which frankly is yet another selfish capitalist jibe. I get from it a similar feeling to when I first read Noam Chomsky or Berger's Ways of Seeing. Yes, psychology is annoying in the way it insists on questioning absolutely everything you take for granted, leaving patients as flimsy self-doubting wrecks. But this is more than that and is a re-examination of the society we live in which you may or may not agree with, but if you are like me and prefer to approach books with an open mind, I can assure you you will enjoy and be fascinated by it if you are new to James' writing. And as for you Oliver james - forget those decrepit old academics who have had a deep and intense love affair with the inner sanctums of their institutions while living off their inheritances dreaming of getting their boring research projects one day funded. They're not worth it.

Now I've got to go because there are some strange black helicopters circling outside my window.
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on 7 February 2008
I really enjoyed Affluenza, but found it anecdotal and rather long. The Selfish Capitalist is more research based than interview based, and draws on all kinds of different reports, drawing parallels between politics and sociology. It's true, Oliver James is a journalist and a psychoanalyst, and not a research psychologist, but at no point does he pretend to be anything other than what he is, and he actually regularly points out potential flaws in his own thinking. I'm not quite sure why he irritates so many people.

Personally, I found The Selfish Capitalist very thought provoking, especially the chapters on materialism. The book loses focus in places, and crams in a few tangential theories along the way, but I think Oliver James is an important voice in the debate.
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on 6 March 2008
This book is an expose of the acquire/aspire obsession in English speaking countries of the last 30 years, and may rub some people up the wrong way as a result. In economies that depend on consumer insatiability and the buy now, pay later mentality Oliver James' message is that we are getting proportionately more miserable as a result.
The statistical links are clear: the US tops the league table of percentage of citizens suffering mental distress in the last year, with a whopping 26.4% seeking professional help. The right-wing economic reforms of Regan and Margaret Thatcher are held by James to be largely responsible for effects on individuals, with other countries such as New Zealand coming in at 20.7% in these results released by the World Health Organisation.
It is a situation we are all familiar with. The rich are getting richer, but there is little increase in net wages otherwise. The emphasis has shifted from saving to borrowing, and a pervasive obsession with emulating celebrities, or indeed, wanting to be one, has taken hold. The solution is, says James, to adopt the 'Unselfish Capitalist' systems of countries in mainland Europe and Japan, which retain pre-1979 economic agendas and have lower rates of income inequality.
As a read it is invigorating: it kind of articulates your concern. What it doesn't do is present contrary evidence, nor justify statements such that cognitive behavioural therapies, which are at least as viable as traditional psychotherapy, are the 'sticking plaster' to our wider political malaise. James may have a point, but he does not back up his views with evidence.
'The Selfish Capitalist' may be flawed for these reasons, but I feel James is going on intuition, and given soaring levels of debt, inequality and more and more people seeking help out of depression and anxiety, the link made between the psychological and the bigger picture has arrived right on cue.
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VINE VOICEon 9 January 2008
Contrary to some of the comments on this book by people who only seem to have read the dust cover, James is identifing a particular, virulent and extreme style of 'selfish' capitalism rather than any form of managed market system. As he argues, the idea that we are all continually seeking selfish goals, and expect everyone else to be doing the same is simply not true. As a result ideologies that are based on this assumption distort and disrupt social relations in a way that actually damages us as individuals.

As for the charge that he is making money out of his beliefs - well that's the genius of capitalism - it renders any critic that has is successful in positing a counter-ideology an instant hypocrite! Stalin had the gulags to silence his detractors - capitalism simply throws money at anyone who opposes even its most extreme consequences. Question whether the maximisation of self-interest and the complete deregulation of the market might sometimes be inimical to social organisation and cohesion and you can be accused of profiteering for publishing a book about it! Brilliant!
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on 8 December 2011
A distinctly Darwinian strain of neo-liberalism which emerged in English speaking worlds during the 1970s that increased materialism and emotional stress, much to the chagrin of the author - a practising psychoanalyst. Depending on your political reality of neo-liberalism (for example Scandanavian, neo-conservative or the curious Chinese experiment) there was and still is the lure, false promise or even expectation that trickle-down wealth creation has a beneficial effect on living standards which counter-intuitively it is argued (with a blinding amount of statistics) is completely illusory from a health perspective.

At times 'The Selfish Capitalist' is reminiscent of an old skool Marxist polemic that points the blame directly at the mechanisms and excesses of free-reigning capitalism - of the "4 legs good, two legs bad" kind - and a reframing of the nasty capitalism debate can read as a common sensible analysis of the state of the nation's emotional well-being.

References to Eric Fromm provide a history lesson in 'being' over 'having' as a measure of happiness, where the intrinsic motivations of autonomy, satisfaction and learning rather than extrinsic rewards of beauty, power and money (though pursuing money has its varying levels of attachment amongst wealth seekers) contribute towards a deeper fulfilment.

An altruistic - or be it political - set of processes to counter the unique brand of wayward neo-liberalism is posited: fairness, reciprocity and a sacrifice of gains through regulations and penalties - though not to everyone's tribal palette - are exhibit able characteristics of much healthier countries around the world, (e.g. Denmark).

In summary, James commingles recent WHO statistics on emotional health with ex post rationality from the fall-out of the biggest financial crash (2008) this century to produce a welcomed "psycho-economics" that, putting ideologies aside, is a prepossessing argument. However if there is one criticism it might be that the title of the book too readily sums-up its health report which appears more of an after thought to 'Affluenza' in scope rather than anything revelatory.
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on 6 January 2008
Oliver James, far from being a "champagne socialist" (are we still in the 80's?) offers a wonderful insight into how the capitalist system creates negative well being. He addresses his own relationship with selfish capitalism and at no point does he advise "Strive for nothing, money is evil and we should all be eating beans and wearing...em knitted sweaters and trainers". I throughly advise reading this book!
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on 19 March 2009
I read Affluenza and very strongly agreed with Oliver James' central thesis. This book claims to be a 'detailed substantiation for the claims made in Affluenza.' On that basis I bought the book, and what a waste of money.

To start with it adds very little to what he says in Affluenza.

Secondly, some of what he does add is so shoddy as to be embarrassing. I will give a couple of examples. "I am looking forward to the first evolutionary theory explaining why nuclear weapons will further the reproduction of our genes." p14 Oh dear, Mr. James, you don't understand this theory at all. Evolutionary theory explains why a particular behaviour was adaptive in the environment in which it evolved. Change the environment and what once helped now harms. Did you really not get that or did you choose to misinterpret the theory to fool the unwary?

A little later we read "Studies show that a person from a poor home who is adopted at birth into a middle class home has an IQ score 10 points higher than their biological parents. At the very least, this suggests that the rearing environment can make a significant difference to intelligence." p29. So intelligence is environmental, not genetic, right? Wrong. Those same studies show that children from middle class families adopted into poor homes have higher IQs than those adopted from poor homes into middle class families. So intelligence is genetic, not environment, right? Wrong. Environment and genes play an interacting role, it's just for Mr. James to make money and keep himself in the public eye he has to con his readers with badly presented 'evidence' instead of being honest. His central thesis is good, he doesn't need this trickery.

Then later on we read "CBT is mental hygiene" p199. Dear, innocent reader you may think this a complement, but no, for James the only hygience worth the name is to rip out every surface, fumigate the whole house and replace everything with hypoallogenic alternatives. His ignorance or deceit is comfounded with statements like if a CBT therapist sees someone for more than 6-16 sessions "then that is not CBT" p206. Really? Christine Padesky runs training sessions on the use of CBT with people diagnosed with Personality Disorders and tells therapists to be ready for work with individuals for up to 2 to 3 YEARS and it is clearly CBT. James' misrepresentation of CBT encourages people to spend thousands of pounds and hundreds of hours in therapy, regardless of how well they think they are functioning.

Overall the quality of this work is of bad science and poor journalism, but I will give it three stars because the message in the book is so important, and the need for change so urgent, that I can forgive all its weaknesses.
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This book is a wide ranging study of the nature and effects of what the author calls 'selfish capitalism'. The fact that he identifies a form of capitalism which is selfish shows that he is NOT an anti-capitalist as some of the so called reviewers of this book have tried to claim.

Mr James has put together an interesting array of statistics which seem to indicate a STRONG connection between intense materialism and a wide range of mental health problems. He does point out that these connections are open to debate and are NOT facts.

The book also focuses on a wide range of aspects about our modern world including a fascinating section on the so called 'war on terror'. This book is vital reading for all of us who want to make our own minds up about the state of the UK that we inhabit.

This book allows you to really understand the nature of the economy created by Thatcher and continued by Major and Blair. By reading 'The Selfish Capitalist' you can decide whether you desire more and more huge TVs, 4 x 4 cars etc or whether a society which focuses more on well-being might be better for ALL of us.

Areas that are more controversial (in my opinion) are Mr James views on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy CBT and the importance of our childhood in influencing us as adults. Mr James may need to delve a little more deeply into the ways that the positive therapies like CBT and NLP combined with diet and herbs/amino acids can help people to feel great!

Mr James provides you with the information and statistics you decide!
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on 26 April 2009
I read this book about 2 years ago ( 2007 ) when oliver James was on a visit to Sydney. The book got good coverage from the SMH then.
I am quite certain, as mentioned above, the happy few didn't like the description Mr James made of them.
However................Today is April 29th 2009 and I'd say he was right on the money wasn't he ?????
Buy the book by all means. At one stage or another, we've all suffered from affluenza and made very poor choices in life because of greed.
Mr James sounded like a party killer to some then, but who's laughing now ??
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