The Deadly Disease of Affluenza

by Kirk Spencer

affluenzaIf influenza is a disease of the respiratory system, then affluenza is a “disease” of the socio-economic system.[1] It begins with bounding ambition which progresses through a series of symptoms, including conspicuous consumption, wasteful spending, excessive debt, and systemic anxiety.[2] In its advanced stages, those afflicted with affluenza exhibit extreme idleness, acute narcissism and a complete loss of sympathy.[3] It is highly contagious and is socially transmitted by way of cultural and media contact.[4]

In a recent court ruling, affluenza was accepted as a successful defense for criminal behavior for the first time.[5] With the judge’s decision, affluenza metastasized from socio-economic theory, to judicial precedent. Here is the argument as I understand it: The privilege and entitlement of rich parents causes them to behave badly in shielding their bad behaving children from the bad consequences of bad behavior; and so, because it is the parent’s fault, the bad behaving child should (guess what?) not have to face the consequences of their bad behavior. To the spoiled child, everything probably seems much the same. The privilege and the spoiling is the same;[6] only now the government is doing the spoiling instead of the parents.

The ease with which affluenza infected the Judicial Branch of our government, makes me fearful that it has already infested the Legislative and Executive Branches. Policy which takes from the affluent in order to buy influence with those who receive the redistribution of the confiscated affluence seems to be popular at present. In the process, the consequences of bad policy are avoided, or at least put-off, by throwing money at them. Who needs rich parents, when you have a rich uncle? But Uncle Sam is not really rich. He just likes to maintain the appearance of riches by redistributing money, printing money and borrowing money (other people’s money). American’s once dreamed of the freedom to work hard and keep the fruit of your labor. As affluenza spreads through the general population, the American Dream of freedom is becoming the pipedream of dependence and persistent expectation… expecting that someone will take care of us.

The culture necessary for the incubation of affluenza is one where each generation expects more than their parents had and yet wants their parents (or Uncle Sam) to get it for them. Historically we may be living in just such a social culture. Post-war material success, coupled with Dr. Spocks post-war advice about not disciplining your children teaches children that happiness is having more, but not learning the discipline to work for it. It can be seen in the prevalence of extended adolescence and man-child behavior. The conditions are prime for using affluence to buy votes, just as affluence parents might buy “love.” This strain of affluenza It is the confluence of two pathogens—Greed and Sloth. And the prognosis of greed without gratitude and leisure unearned—of seeking affluence and influence but not possessing the discipline to make them worthwhile—the prognosis is a life of narcissistic alienation. Such life (so called) is contagious. It is socially transmitted. We can easily catch it from our parents—something to remember when picking up and packing away all the toys left unplayed-with, and all the insignificant byproducts of affluence that clutters our Christmases. For affluence (and thus affuenza) comes in many forms and it is only one of the many diseases that Christ bore for us upon the cross. And in Him we can find true healing.

[2] This list of symptoms could equally apply to our country at present.

[3] And this could apply to our country in the very near future.


Also see the book Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic.

[6] Oddly enough, the really bad behavior of rich parents accessories (their children) does not make the parents accessory to the bad behavior. If so the parents would be looking at some jail time.

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3 Responses to The Deadly Disease of Affluenza

  1. Pingback: The Deadly Disease of Affluenza | Christian Heritage News

  2. Joe says:

    Thanks for the post. It is an undeniable historical trend that affluence leads to a general sense of entitlement within a generation. I have however wondered whether or not affluence itself is a bad thing. I am thinking of affluence being a synonym of wealth. In general wealth appears to be a good thing in that it eases human suffering. So long as the wealth is created absent of coercion it could even be argued that wealth is a sign of a society that serves one another, for how do you attain wealth in a free society other than offering products and services that people want and desire? This thinking does not however trump the reality that affluence is often a precursor to the downfall of a society. I wonder if it is the case that wealth in and of itself is a bad thing, or that humans due to their current state simply cannot sustainably enjoy its fruits. Any insight on this?

    • Kirk Spencer says:

      You raise an important question. In my opinion affluence, itself, is not necessarily a disease but it certainly can become one. As you have probably heard… the Bible says that “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” not money itself. The passage continues “and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs (1 Tim. 6:10).” I guess loving money is like loving a porcupine.

      God has placed an object lesson in the very center of the Holy Land—a lesson about the question you asked. The Sea of Galilee in the north is fresh and living because it gets and gives (the water of the Jordan flows through it). The Dead Sea, in the south, gets and never gives. The water of the Jordan flows into the Dead Sea t but does not flow out… it only evaporates and leaves behind the impurities that build up in the water so that it has become so bitter that nothing can live near it.

      Wealth is like water. If we allow it to flow through our hands to help others, it brings life. If we spend it all on ourselves (and our children) our lives may look beautiful but there is bitterness—and we “pierce ourselves with many griefs.”

      Joe… I’m glad you took time to comment. Income inequality and poverty are becoming important topics recently. I have submitted two more posts on this subject. They should be up in the next couple of weeks.

      Take care


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