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(ACJC PRELIMINARY EXAM 2007 PAPER 2)

Affluence

Passage 1: Barry Schwartz writes


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Economists assume that we know what we want, and that we are rational, so that if we have
the opportunity and freedom to choose we will choose whatever gives us the greatest
satisfaction. The real virtue of the competitive free market is not so much what it gains in
economic efficiency over other economic systems, as what it gains for individuals in
opportunities to choose. The importance of choice also casts light on the emphasis that 5
developed societies place on increasing the material wealth of their citizens. The value of
material wealth has more to do with its relation to freedom of choice than with its relation to
luxurious standards of living. Wealth liberates: per capita GDP is a decent proxy for the
amount of freedom enjoyed by individuals in a society. Many also assume that the more
money we have, the better able we will be to use it to provide us with what we value 10
material goods, leisure time, education.

But the paradox of affluence is that the flow of new rewards can undermine the capacity to
enjoy them. There are two main reasons for this. First, freedom of choice is not an unalloyed
good, in part because people can be paralysed by too wide a choice, in part because they
often choose badly, and in part because even when people overcome paralysis, and choose
well, the thought of all those attractive options they have left on the table can undermine their
satisfaction with the option they chose. Economists believe that choice should not work this
way, but it does. And affluence requires more choice: it poses problems that take time and
energy to solve.

Second, affluence exposes one of our principal weaknesses: our inability to exert self-control.
We have a powerful tendency to indulge in short-term passions at the expense of long-term
interests, and increased wealth feeds this myopia, by giving us the wherewithal to indulge
such preferences. The market offers us one novel consumption opportunity after another, and
novelty tends to produce a bias towards short-term rewards, towards individualism, hedonism,
narcissism and disorientation. An example is the obesity epidemic that now plagues the
developed world: this is myopia in action.
Problems of self-control are not new, even if wealth exacerbates them. In the past we relied
on a network of restraints provided by the state and by various social and religious
institutions. But these restraints have weakened. Nanny states, meddling pastors, strict
parents and nosy neighbours have a much smaller hold on us than they used to. Advertisers
dangle attractive treats in front of our eyes and noses, and there is precious little to stand
between us and the products they want us to buy and consume. The market shoves shiny
toys in our faces, and we can afford to buy them.
Consumption has shifted increasingly from time-saving devices, like washing machines, to
time-using devices, like iPods and DVRs. We want to have a good time, but a pervasive
aspect of our psychology does us in; we adapt. New acquisitions give us pleasure, but for
much less time than we expect. We become bored, we feel cheated or short-changed, and we
are off to find the next new thing. This process of adaptation has been referred to as the
hedonic treadmill. But, as on exercise treadmills, we do not actually get anywhere. Moreover,
choosing these pleasure machines and then using them takes time, and time spent getting
and consuming is time not spent on other things. The time we spend on the hedonic treadmill
is time we do not spend nurturing and sustaining relations with friends, family and community.
The hedonic treadmill is not the only one we are running on. We care about how we look to
others. Status or regard can be derived from many things: virtues of character, occupation,
acts of kindness or charity, and of course wealth. In a society in which efforts are
concentrated on increasing GDP, and life is oriented towards consumption, wealth becomes
an increasingly important yardstick of status, and other things recede into the background.
How much wealth is enough? The answer is: more wealth than your neighbours. The result is
a kind of arms race of wealth acquisition that thrives on inequality, but leaves no one better
off.

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Passage 2: Clive Hamilton and Richard Denniss write


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Since the early 1990s societies have been infected by affluenza, a growing and unhealthy
preoccupation with money and material things. This illness is constantly reinforcing itself at
both the individual and the social levels, constraining us to derive our identities and sense of
place in the world through our consumption activity. The virus is spread and intensified by a
vast marketing industry that exploits our insecurities and vanities to make us feel
discontented.

The problem is not consumption itself: the problem is our attachment to consumption, the way
we invest our hopes, our goals and our sense of self in the things we buy and own. The
problem is not so much that we consume but that we consume for the wrong reasons.
Advertisers know they would sell less if they were merely to present the facts about a product, 10
so they persuade us to form attachments to products because we want to use them to build
an ideal self.

Conscious consumption, as opposed to no consumption, is the antidote to affluenza.


Conscious consumption involves cultivating an awareness of why we buy things and
understanding what needs we are trying to meet by buying this item or that one. People who 15
have a better understanding of themselves and are less prone to self-deception can see
through marketers' attempts to deceive them. They are much less vulnerable to the affluenza
virus.

One of the most valuable things parents can do for their children is teach them to adopt a
critical attitude towards marketers' attempts to influence them. Children are exposed to 20
advertisements before they can talk. Parents who not only control the amount of television
their children watch but also take the time to watch it with them and point out that advertisers
are trying to deceive them help instil in those children a capacity to shield themselves from the
blandishments of the market.

Conscious consumption is an essential protective shield in our personal lives, but it must go
beyond the cultivation of an awareness of our own needs and of marketers' efforts to appeal
to our insecurities. We must also be conscious of the impact of our decisions on the rest of
the world. We need to think about our consumption decisions socially as well as personally.

What is needed is a political philosophy of well-being, one that focuses on those aspects of
our personal lives and the social structure that do improve our welfare. It would give priority to
fulfilling work and help us reclaim our time. It would encourage vibrant, resilient, sustainable
communities and help people develop the skills to build stronger family relationships. A
politics of well-being would wind back the process of commercialising our educational
institutions and insist that our schools and universities be devoted to improving the physical,
emotional and moral health of our young people, rather than certifying them for the workplace.
It would not hesitate to protect us from the forces that spread affluenza, especially the barrage
of deceptive marketing.

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Some people have become so habituated to the ideology of the market they have forgotten
the lessons of history: "What you propose is all very well," they will say, "but it can never
happen. The forces working against it, including human nature, will prevent it." For people 40
who can imagine nothing more than the present, history has ended. If they are right, the future
is one in which we accumulate more and more things and watch as all aspects of our
personal lives and social worlds are turned over to the market. This dystopian future will be
marked by an intensification of all the distress and damage caused by affluenza - unthinking
consumerism, fractured relationships, psychological disorders and mountains of waste. And 45
our children and grandchildren will be condemned to lives without meaning.

Read the passages in the insert and then answer all the questions which follow below. Note
that up to fifteen marks will be given for the quality and accuracy of your use of English
throughout this Paper.

For
Examiner's
Use

Note: When a question asks for an answer IN YOUR OWN WORDS AS FAR AS POSSIBLE
and you select the appropriate material from the passage for your answer, you must still
use your own words to express it. Little credit can be given to answers which only copy
words or phrases from the passage.

Questions on Passage 1

1. According to the writer in paragraph 1, why do people value material wealth? Use
your own words as far as possible.

...[2]

2. Why does the writer think that freedom of choice is not an unalloyed good (lines 13
- 14)? Use your own words as far as possible.

...[2]

3. Explain how the obesity epidemic is myopia in action (line 26).

[2]

For
Examiner's

5
Use

4. Why does the author refer to the process of adaptation as the hedonic treadmill
(line 39)? Use your own words as far as possible.

..[2]

5. In line 48, the writer asks how much wealth is enough?. What point is he trying to
make here? Use your own words as far as possible.

...[2]
Questions on Passage 2

6. What do the writers mean by we consume for the wrong reasons


(line 9)? Use your own words as far as possible.

......[2]

For
Examiner's
Use

7. What, according to the writers, can we do to combat affluenza? Using material from
paragraphs 3 to 6, summarise these measures. Write your summary in no more
than 120 words, not counting the opening words which are given below. Use your
own words as far as possible.
The writers suggested that
...
..

..

..
..

..

..

..

..
..

..

..

For
Examiner's
Use

..

.. ...

..[8]

8. The writers seem pessimistic about the dystopian future (line 43) which is marked
by an intensification of all the distress and damage caused by affluenza (line 44).
Identify and explain two phrases that reflect this pessimism. Use your words as far as
possible.

..............[2]

9. Questions on Passages 1 and 2


Give the meaning of each of the following words as they are used in Passage 1 and
Passage 2. You may write your answer in one word or a short phrase.
From Passage 1:
exacerbates (line 27)
regard (line 44)

..

...

From Passage 2:
reinforcing (line 2) ..
habituated (line 38) .
marked (line 44) ..[5]

For
Examiner's
Use

10. The writer of Passage 1 discusses the problems that have arisen as a result of
affluence, while the writers of Passage 2 suggest solutions to these problems. To
what extent is the world today plagued or afflicted by affluenza? How far are people
in your generation willing to re-examine their priorities and values to combat
affluenza?
Draw appropriate information from the passages. You must also rely on your own
knowledge and observations.

For
Examiner's
Use

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..
....
....
[8]
Requirement
Explanation
Evaluation
Coherence
Band/ Marks

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