Thorstein Veblen: Economist and Social Commentator
October 29, 2002 11:27 PM   Subscribe

Thorstein Veblen, Economist and Social Commentator, who contributed to the common tongue the phrase conspicuous consumption.

Who was Thorstein Veblen--and why should anyone care?

I should like him for his writing style alone:

The appreciation of those evidences of honorific crudeness to which hand-wrought goods owe their superior worth and charm in the eyes of well-bred people is a matter of nice discrimination. It requires training and the formation of right habits of thought with respect to what may be called the physiognomy of goods. Machine-made goods of daily use are often admired and preferred precisely on account of their excessive perfection by the vulgar and the underbred who have not given due thought to the punctilios of elegant consumption. The ceremonial inferiority of machine products goes to show that the perfection of skill and workmanship embodied in any costly innovations in the finish of goods is not sufficient of itself to secure them acceptance and permanent favor. The innovation must have the support of the canon of conspicuous waste. Any feature in the physiognomy of goods, however pleasing in itself, and however well it may approve itself to the taste for effective work, will not be tolerated if it proves obnoxious to this norm of pecuniary reputability.

From Chapter Six - Pecuniary Canons of Taste of the work entire, The Theory of The Leisure Class. Feel free to consume conspicuously.
posted by y2karl (7 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I should note that ll these links come from Elegant Technology, who are doing God's work here: Veblen is important in both the histories of economics and satire, too.
posted by y2karl at 11:46 PM on October 29, 2002

I actually brought Veblen up a week or two ago in regards to the Tightwad Chic article. Thanks for the link to the online work, y2karl. That's going in the bookmarks.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 2:53 AM on October 30, 2002

Thanks, y2karl. I've noticed this social/cultural aspect - hey, I'm even subscribing to the "punctilios of elegant consumption" in my own home decorating - but Veblen immortalizes it in all the glory of his clinically sardonic prose.
posted by troutfishing at 4:14 AM on October 30, 2002

I always loved it when Professors would try to bring up Veblen in my econ classes, just b/c none of them had paid enough attention to him to say much, and they'd kind of stammer a bit. I really enjoyed Theory of the Leisure Class.

In addition to "conspicuous consumption", he's also credited by most as the first to coin the (not as common) expression "Churches as Chain Stores".
posted by Ufez Jones at 7:03 AM on October 30, 2002

i wrote a highschool paper on the history of leisure and veblen figured prominently in it, good stuff! here's some other stuff on leisure economics:(xpost :)
posted by kliuless at 7:09 AM on October 30, 2002

Seems like conspicuous consumption of front page space...but interesting linkage.
posted by rushmc at 9:00 AM on October 30, 2002

psuedoephedrine *sniff* --it was your comment that jogged my memory about the Veblen link.

Thanks for the links kliuless, although I must allow I'm a little leery of Bob Black after he allegedly narc'd out Jim Hogshire, Mr. Poppy Tea, of Pills A Go Go fame--to the Seattle Police and FBI!--after a disastrous falling out. Which involved Hogshire pointing a rifle at him at one point, of course, so they came off looking like wackos, all in all...

ps. Oh, poo, rushmc...
posted by y2karl at 9:50 AM on October 30, 2002

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