Today, however, the biggest problems in society, the things that cause hardship and distress for people, tend to be relationship-based - social issues, not economic. The paradox is stunning: we live in a nation with record levels of financial growth and prosperity, yet also with record levels of discontent and public angst.
A striking aspect of this phenomenon has been the way in which it has affected all parts of society, regardless of their economic standing. Poor communities, after several generations of long-term unemployment and financial disadvantage in Australia, now face the further challenge of social disintegration, a loss of self-esteem and solidarity. Thirty years ago, these communities where financially poor but socially rich. Today they face poverty on both fronts.
While the middle class in Australia has experienced the assets and wealth of an unprecedented economic boom, its social balance sheet has moved in the opposite direction. The treadmill of work and the endless accumulation of material goods have not necessarily made people happier. In many cases, they have denied them the time and pleasures of family life, replacing strong and loving social relationships with feelings of stress and alienation.
This is the savage trade-off of middle-class life: generating financial wealth but at a significant cost to social capital. Thus social exclusion needs to be understood as more than just financial poverty; it also includes the poverty of society, the exclusion of many affluent Australians from strong and trusting personal relationships.
- Mark Latham, "The Latham Diaries", (2005)