Affluenza: the struggles of economic privilege

In our ever growing, competitive capitalistic society, the struggle to make money is very real. In the U.S., the economic gap between the rich and the poor is huge as we all continue to strive for the American dream. But what happens to those who finally make it big and make so much money that they will never have to work another day in their lives?


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Jessie O’Neill, a psychologist that specializes in money and wealth, has coined the term affluenza which is commonly used to refer to the psychological stress, guilt, isolation, or behavioral disorders that come from having great wealth and seeking out great wealth. In the documentary, Affluenza, made by the BBC in 2000, they follow millionaires in Silicon Valley that made it big in the internet boom and their struggles that have come with coming into money.  According to Dr. O’Neill, children of families of the extremely wealthy seem to be exhibiting similar personality traits to children of the extremely poor. Their lack of self- worth and motivation tend to be similar.

Last month, wealthy sixteen year old Ethan Couch, killed four people in Texas in a drunk driving accident. He and his friends robbed a liquor store and then got behind the wheel of a car and committed four counts of intoxicated manslaughter. Although he admitted to committing these crimes, he did not end up going to prison. He used affluenza as his defense, stating that his parents’ excessive wealth and lack of limits lead him to do this, so this was not his fault. In an interview with Newsmax, Dr. O’Neill stated that affluenza was used inaccurately in this case and that it has likely affected Couch’s psychological state, but it should never be used to excuse murder. There has been such widespread outrage at the result of this case that it has made international news. Many believe affluenza is not a real disease, but instead a made up phenomenon that gives the wealthy yet another leg up in society.

-Annalise Kukor


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