The Theory of the Leisure Class

Author: Thorstein Veblen was an American sociologist and economist born in Wisconsin in the year 1857. He was raised in a prosperous Norwegian household by his two parents, and he thrived as from an early age they instilled solid life values and beliefs in him. He studied at multiple prestigious colleges around the country. He wrote his most famous work The Theory of the Leisure Class, when he was in his forties.

Context: This piece was published in 1899, during a period known as the Gilded Age. This was a time of great economic expansion in the United States, leading Veblen to write about how the profits were being spent.

Language: Veblen uses very critical language in this piece, as he is going directly after a singular group of people. His tone can be categorized as somewhat flippant towards the leisure class, although the piece is an excellent example of how prose can be put together. He knows exactly what he is trying to say and uses a specific tone and set of words to get his point across.

Audience: Veblen is writing to a the educated world as a whole. He is giving his thoughts to anyone who would like to read them, especially the people to whom he is writing about (leisure class). He wants his ideas to be seen, debated, and taken into account by the populace as a whole.

Intent: Veblen wanted to break down the society into the people who spend superfluously and those who are rational and understand how to be fiscally responsible. He wanted to show how those extravagant people were actually hurting their country and themselves more than they were helping (waste=bad).

Message: Veblen put the leisure class out on a line in this piece. He showed how their flamboyance was a detriment to themselves and the society around them as it started new negative trends that the rest of the populace would then adopt. His main point was that it was poor form to waste materials (even if you had the financial means to do so) because it doesn’t help anyone in the long run – it just makes you look like a fool.

3 thoughts on “The Theory of the Leisure Class

  1. I think that Veblen’s unique upbringing, that of being born in the United States and then being raised in Norway provides a unique approach to this topic, as he has witnessed both economic systems to some extent.

  2. It’s interesting the words you chose to describe the Leisure Class. Flamboyant is not something you that would immediately come to mind when asked to describe the leisure class but in some respects is fitting.

  3. You point out that the leisure class started trends among the lower classes, trends that mainly involve consumerism. To some extent, this implies that the lower classes were not satisfied by their position in status. Consumerism helped facilitate this general discontent among lower classes. Driven by greed, they sought material goods to give the impression that they were wealthier than they actually were. I think this is part of human nature, to continuously seek a higher social standing and to acquire as much power as is feasible.

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