Boston Public Radio Podcast
1:57 pm
Tue December 24, 2013

Nancy Koehn on the Scourge of Affluenza

Noël Hallé, The Education of Rich People
Credit Noël Hallé [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The term affluenza was popularized by the 2001  book  Affluenza: Why Overconsumption is Killing Us and How to Fight Back. The authors defined it as “a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.”  Back then it was used as a quasi-satirical term to describe a societal ill. Today it's being used as a diagnosis to keep a juvenile, who killed four people, out of jail.

A couple of weeks ago  16-year old Ethan Couch  killed four people while speeding. (He was driving 70 miles per hour in a zone restricted to only 40 MPH.) He also had three times the legal limit for alcohol in his blood stream. Prosecutors  asked for the maximum sentence of 20 years in juvenile hall, instead Couch got off with 10 years probation. Couch's defense's team argued that he suffered from "affluenza"; because of his family’s wealth and child-rearing style, Couch never learned that his actions had consequences.

According to the LA Times, Eric Boyles, who lost his wife and daughter in the accident, said  "money always seems to keep you out of trouble.” After the probation was announced Boyles told reporters “Ultimately today, I felt that money did prevail. If you had been any other youth, I feel like the circumstances would have been different.” So does a wealth gap also imply that there's a moral accountability gap?

Today, on Open Mic, Harvard Business School's Nancy Koehn joined us for her take on this. To grossly summarize, she says that this verdict accentuates the haves and the have nots in our society. It also could be interpreted as a referendum on decency--a sign that we are losing our moral center. But not all is lost, in classic Nancy Koehn fashion, she reminds us that most of us wake up ever day, get out of bed, and do the right thing. 

To hear this all  in her words, listen here:

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