Thorstein Veblen on Conspicuous Consumption

Author: Thorstein Veblen, born in Wisconsin in 1857, was an economist and sociologist. He grew up in Minnesota, raised by his parents to value education and hard work. Perhaps this is the root for his distain of what he termed as “conspicuous consumption” and waste of the Gilded Age.

Context: He wrote Conspicuous Consumption in 1902 in his book The Theory of the Leisure Class. He wrote this during the second industrial revolution.

Language: Veblen’s tone is critical, informative and philosophical.

Audience: Veblen’s audience is the upper class and other philosophers or sociologists.

Intent: Veben’s intent in this piece is to deconstruct the consumer culture of the “Gilded Age” and enlighten people on America’s money lust and thirst for status. He exposes the upper class’ need to show off their status by buying items in excess and splurging on superfluous extras.

Message: His overall message in this piece is the harm in society’s need for status based on wealth. He believes it is a waste for people to spend extraordinary amounts on what they don’t need just to prove to society that they have the means to. He has brings up the problems this causes for the economy and the character of people as well. Veblen argues that this culture creates a bigger divide between the rich and poor and is wasteful of resources. According to him, people should not consume more than is necessary for quality of life- it is bad form and extremely wasteful.

3 thoughts on “Thorstein Veblen on Conspicuous Consumption

  1. I like the connection you make between his core values and his view on “conspicuous consumption” as well as the wording and points in your message. The divide among the classes had become drastic along with the differences in wealth. He stressed the importance of wealth redistribution.

  2. You are correct with regards to the widening gap between the rich and poor. Veblen explained that as wealth accumulates, the leisure class divided into a more or less complex hierarchical system. Those on the upper end of the spectrum outranked their rural counterparts, and those on the lower end fed off the superfluous wealth of the higher grades.

  3. I do believe that his upbringing had the strongest influence on his perspective on economics. Not only were his parents immigrants- which usually doesn’t entail for a very luxurious and easy lifestyle- but also the values of education force him to appreciate intellect over materialism. His dislike for superficiality stems from his core morals taught from a young age.

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