It’s experiences, not possessions, that make us happy. So why do I keep buying things I don’t need – like the speedboat I have now, finally, sold?
Over and over again, as Gaby Hinsliff reminds us in The Times, researchers into the economics of happiness reach the same conclusion: “buying stuff isn’t nearly as fulfilling as people think, but buying experiences – time with friends, say – works”.
Hinsliff went off for Easter with a copy of Capital in the Twenty-First Century by the French economist Thomas Piketty in her bag. Apparently the message of this is that capitalism isn’t working properly, “because the assets of the established rich grow too fast for entrepreneurial income to catch up and that the answer is a wealth tax of the sort floated by the Liberal Democrats and Labour”.
What’s interesting, says Hinsliff, is whether this might be a tax which could actually make the rich a little happier.
One result of “clobbering” houses worth £2m or more would be cash shifting into more mobile assets harder for the taxman to get his hands on – like fine wine. But perhaps it might also persuade the rich to “bring their ossified money to life… Investing it, pumping it into fledgling businesses… Or just spending it on going out into the world, travelling, good times – anything but building some chilly, lonely little monument to success”.
Hinsliff says that a behavioural economist once told her the reason Scandinavians are “so irritatingly cheerful” is that as their income rises, they socialise more. Britons, on the other hand, “retreat as they grow richer”, buying bigger houses, filling them with things, burrowing underground to build basements.
“All those poor millionaires, crouching in their cellars. It seems cruel not to set them free.” I’m not sure a mansion tax is the answer. But Hinsliff has a point.
The struggle to buy braindead pond life
Goldfishes don’t make very exciting pets. If you want to gawp at “brainless pond life” through a screen, as Richard Littlejohn says in the Daily Mail, why not watch daytime TV? But I had no idea what a struggle it is to buy a goldfish these days.
One of Littlejohn’s readers wrote to him about trying to buy one at the Pets At Home store in Hove. He was asked a string of “impertinent” questions about his experience of fish and how big his tank was. (Not big enough: he left the shop empty-handed.)
He’s not the only frustrated buyer. It turns out there’s even an online forum for people refused goldfish. Here’s an example.
“Looking after Daughter’s goldfish, one dies and decide to replace it. Go to Pets At Home and experience the bloody ‘Spanish Inquisition’! Some bloody jobsworth asked me size of tank, what filter system did I have and wait for it… what experience did I have of fish?”
How ridiculous, says Littlejohn. Soon we may not even be able to win goldfish at fairgrounds. A number of MPs, including Jack Straw, want the law changed to stop them being given away as prizes.
Tabloid money: Bercow’s £2,400 bill for cleaning his curtains
• “First the Rev Paul Flowers blamed the crisis at the Co-op Bank on government ministers who he claimed had interfered,” says Carole Malone in the Sunday Mirror. “Then he said ‘media vultures’ were responsible for his downfall. So, the bloke whose only banking experience was four years at NatWest in the Sixties, and who appears to have spent most of his time at toyboy orgies shoving cocaine up his nose… wasn’t to blame for anything?”
• “Commons Speaker John Bercow has racked up a £500,000 expenses bill since taking the job five years ago,” says The Sun. “That includes £170,000 for entertaining, £26,000 for clothes, and £2,400 for cleaning his curtains. Amazingly, despite racking up half a million quid’s worth of claims for running his office, expenditure has dropped by two-thirds since he took over. Just as well, or it could have been curtains for him – cleaned or not.”
• “The former Tory MP Louise Mensch, now a commentator based in New York,” says Peter McKay in the Daily Mail, “takes the Labour peer Alan Sugar to task for tweeting photos of his latest private jet – ‘my third one in ten years’. She points out – quite reasonably I think – that this might not resonate with Labour’s ‘cost of living’ campaign. Lord Sugar replies: ‘Shut up you stupid cow.’ Isn’t he a silver-tongued old charmer?”
• “How lovely! A 12-year-old girl from north London has become Britain’s youngest mum,” says Rod Liddle in The Sun. “Her parents must be so proud.
The girl’s partner is 13, making him the youngest dad…” Apparently they are “‘totally into each other’. Well, indeed. When everybody has stopped cooing about how sweet it all is, maybe they’ll remember that it costs the taxpayer at least £120,000 for every teen pregnancy.”