Have you ever bought a 'self help' book? Given the popularity of the genre, it is surely surprising that there isn't an obvious surplus of intellectually satisfied working mums bursting with energy at the end of another exhausting day; well-rounded children entirely undismayed by their parents' divorce; kitchen-table entrepreneurs who have turned their off-the-cuff dinner party idea into millions and 'new' men who are fabulous lovers, caring fathers and never, ever forget their wedding anniversary.
It would be interesting to see a graph correlating sales of self help books per capita and some index of well-being by country. In the absence of data one could remain silent or one could speculate. So here goes. According to this authoritative source, the self improvement market in the USA is worth $9.6 billion per annum; 40,000 people work as 'life coaches' and in 2005 $693 million was spent by Americans on self help books. That's $2.2 per capita, including children. The USA in 2011 ranked 31st among nation states in this quality of life index. Glancing at the countries flanking the USA in the survey: Poland, Estonia, Croatia, Lithuania, Chile, I guess that the self help book market in these places, while quite possibly flourishing, has not yet gone viral. As I said, I have no data, I'm just saying.
Is it just me or does everyone agree that $9.6 billion would do more good spent on, say, hunting down and exterminating, like the vermin they are, practitioners of female genital mutilation? Or even just sending about $1.20 to every human being on the planet, including many to whom that would represent a day's wages or more. Put differently, $9.6 billion equates to about 1.5% of the US defence budget, which gets you about a dozen dead Arabs, at the current rate of exchange.
Help me out someone. Why does anyone buy these books? In the self-esteem stakes, I'm up there with the unlucky inhabitants of Zimbabwe and Somalia but I have never sunk so low as to think that Paul McKenna, or any other loathsome charlatan can make me rich or even save me from poverty.