The Vicarious Consumption of Goods

In 1899 Thorstein Veblen wrote “The Theory of the Leisure Class” on his observation of division of labor; specifically the effect capitalism had on the upper/leisure class.  As a child of immigrant parents being raised in Wisconsin, Veblen had trouble adjusting and felt isolated from the American way.  This detached upbringing seems to have an impact on the way he describes the leisure class, as he speaks as though he is on the outside of society looking in.  Veblen is very critical of the effects capitalism had on the leisure class and believed it was leading to regression rather than progression. His writing calls out those of the leisure class for their over consumption of goods and their archaic values.

Veblen starts off by describing how the leisure class has taken on the duty of “…the vicarious consumption of goods” ((The Theory of the Leisure Class, 1899)).  It’s obvious that he is poking fun at the wealthy, as he sees that their only role in society is to buy the products the working class makes.  In a visual sense he is basically comparing them to a parasite, as they received goods without contributing anything back to society.  Veblen goes on to describe the unnecessary waste of goods that go into how people dress.  Dress is considered the easiest way to show others your class, as all observers will know your status at first glance ((The Theory of the Leisure Class, 1899)) .  Veblen has trouble trying to fathom why people give up life’s necessities just so they can afford more expensive clothing.  The value of clothing is based on fashion, rather than their practical use which Veblen sees as unenlightened.

After his rant on dress, Veblen decides to go after the very language used by the leisure class.  Those of wealth practice classic English rather than the common tongue seen with the rest of society.  Just as dress shows class status, the use of old/classic English shows that you are of an important, wealthy family.  Veblen describes the word “classic” as word that carries the “…connotation of wasteful and archaic” ((The Theory of the Leisure Class, 1899)), implying that the use of classic English is simply inefficient and backwards.

Do you agree with Veblen’s statement that the leisure class’ duty is only to consume products?  Why is there such an emphasis on class status during this time?  Do we still stress importance on the way we dress and speak today?





Fordism Before Fordism Was Cool

The Industrial Revolution was an important step for many countries during the late 18th century to 19th century, as it changed the way products were manufactured to what is now seen today.  In Adam Smith’s first chapter of, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, the division of labor is seen as a necessity for maximizing the efficiency of creating manufactured goods.  The way Smith describes the importance of the division of labor relates back to Hoffmann in, “European Modernity and Soviet Socialism”, as both emphasize the categorization of the branches of labor and making humans more efficient during their livelihood.  The division of labor sets apart the most powerful countries from rest of the world.  Smith argues that, “In agriculture, the labour of the rich country is not always much more productive than that of the poor…” ((An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith)) ,in his attempt to show that the taste and price of agricultural goods will never diverge too much between countries.  However, countries that are industrialized will be able to sell finished goods of higher quality and lower cost to their consumers.  This in return leads to a society with a higher standard of living, with more people being able to afford various finished products.  

Smith outlines three circumstances necessary for the division of labor to be effective in a state.  Dexterity relates to the time in which one can complete his job in.  If the job becomes more simple, then the worker will be able to complete this job at a faster rate.  The time between each process is the next important part of this outline.  If the time between each process is reduced, there will be more energy being spent on the development of the product rather than the transport.  Lastly, the development of machinery helps increase the overall speed of creating goods.  All three of these concepts are seen to be necessary to build an industrialized society.    

What group of people is this being written for?

Does Smith miss any points necessary for an industrialized society?

Division of Wealth and Labor

The distributed wealth among nations is never going to be the same and there are many factors that go into that wealth. One factor that economist and philosopher Adam Smith talks in An Inquiry into the Nature and Cause of Wealth of Nation about is the division of labor. Division of Labor is characterized as “Narrow specialization of tasks within a production process so that each worker can become a specialist in doing one thing”.[i] This concept of division of labor changed the way of thinking in terms of production due to the fact that manufacturing could be done all year, unlike agriculture.

Manufacturing is an all year around practice while the practices of agriculture can mostly be seasonal depending on locale. Nations that have more wealth than others weren’t necessarily ahead of other nations in agriculture but were further ahead in manufacturing and production due to the discrepancies in wealth among different nations. Transportation was also a big key those nations who had large manufacturing operations. In the beginning it was easier for cities closer to waterways to transport their product because it was easier to get the product from the manufacturer to the customer. The discrepancies in wealth among different nations can cause for loss of market share for certain nations that don’t have the money to compete with larger nations.

Division of labor is not only more efficient that one man doing all of the work, it allows for more creativity and innovation in whatever field the manufacturer is in. Division of labor is like an assembly line where each employee has one specific task to complete in the process of production. Innovation can be elicited from this concept of division of labor in the way that each employee has one specific task and they could find different tools or different methods to complete their task. Innovation can lead to being more productive if an employee can find a quicker way to produce their part of the product.

The wealthier you are as a nation the more you are going to prosper. This is the case for the nations who have a larger hand in manufacturing because it’s a more efficient way to produce a variety of products. This book birthed the mark of capitalism. In chapter one, it showed how manufacturing can be a weapon of capitalism and how nation can further increase their wealth.

[i] ((

Manifesto of the Communist Party

Of the many thought provoking and avant-garde ideas contained in Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ Manifesto of the Communist Party, the core concept is explicitly stated in the opening line of the document where they wrote, “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle.” (126) This concept of class antagonisms is alluded to throughout several portions of the text. They believed that the proletariat would ultimately rise up and unify, dissolving all class distinctions to create a society conducted by a tier-less working class. In the process of developing their argument, Marx and Engels described the implications of the bourgeoisie’s rise to power. In this post I seek to expand on this notion.

Marx and Engels wrote that the bourgeoisie had, “replaced an exploitation veiled by religious and political illusions by exploitation open, unashamed, direct, and brutal.”(127) These statements were in reference to how the industrial revolution had created a system of exploitation in which the owners of capital, the bourgeoisie, exploited the wage-laborers, the proletariat, by enacting exploitative labor practices. They believed that the division of labor created a situation where, “He (the worker) becomes a mere appendage of the machine, of whom only the simplest, most monotonous operations are required,” ultimately creating a situation where “the price of a commodity, and therefore of labor, is equal to the cost of its production.”(131) While it is true that the division of labor drastically improves production, Marx and Engels objected to this practice because it marginalizes the worker to the extent where his labor becomes so simplified and monotonous that they lose all bargaining power and leverage against the firm. Adam Smith, in his work An Inquiry into the Nature and Case of the Wealth of Nations, emphatically promoted this division of labor. He did not recognize the inherent pitfalls that inevitably arise with this boost of productive efficiency. Marx and Engels countered this stance by claiming that the increases in production were nullified by the working class’ horrific existence.

Marx and Engels argued that such an exploitative system could only remain in place for a limited time because “the bourgeoisie has not only forged the weapons that bring death to itself; it has also produced the men who will wield these weapons – the modern workers, the PROLETARIATS.” (130) It appears as though these “weapons” which they allude to are products of the very industrial system that has subjugated the working class: new technologies. Marx and Engels wrote, “the union, which took centuries for the burghers of the Middle Ages with their wretched highways, to establish, the modern proletariat achieves by means of railways in a few years.” (133) Once the proletariat rises up against its oppressors it is capable of commandeering the new technologies that they created with their own labor, such as the railroads, to help disperse their new ideas and help the revolution materialize at a previously unfathomable pace.


In addition to railroads, what other newly developed technologies and structures created by constantly expanding markets would prove to be valuable for the dispersion of communist ideals?

Division of Labor

In An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, the author is pro Division of Labor. The author begins by giving a background of each chapter and reciting the powers of labor and produce. Throughout this excerpt, he goes into detail of the benefits of Division of Labor. One of these benefits include working together as a team, this allows people to help one another and complete more items than if working alone. Another benefit the author states is that a countries’ supply depends on its annual labor. Its annual labor is the only source of income. This passage discusses the vast improvements of labor and distribution. In this system, the poor are included, unlike an individual system where each is on their own. This allows for the opportunity for many to have a job and support their families rather than abandoning the old and young to fend for themselves.

The author also argues that when working in a separate environment, as farming, the expenses increase and production is less. The author states that by “making this one purpose his sole purpose in life, he is able to produce more than others who don’t have this one particular skill”. This enables those who work best at the skill to complete more than someone who does not have prior knowledge about the skill, allowing for speedy manufacturing.

The author describes those in a position above the workers as “philosophers, people who only observe work but do not partake in machinery”. The author considers this a governed society with inspirational leaders. This allows the workers to be convinced that they are getting the better hand of the deal. It is explained as accommodation and supply. The author finds Division of Labor to be a positive aspect of the work environment. It is a pyramid system with the workers at the bottom, with the least amount of say.

Essay on Population and The Wealth go Nations

Essay on Population, 1798

Author: Thomas Mathus. Malthus was an English cleric and scholar, and was very influential in the fields of demography and political economics. He did not believe society was perfectible, and wrote in opposition to many Enlightened thinkers of his era.

Context-Famine was a fact of everyday life in England, even as agriculture was making major advances in efficiency and increased productions. However, the population continued to rise, and production of food was unable to meet demands.

Language: Slightly more difficult and has a flowery, descriptive tone

Audience: This essay is clearly intended for an intellectual crowd. Malthus is arguing against other philosophers of his era, such as Godwin, and assumes his audience is familiar with their writings.

Intent: Malthus writes to explain that human society cannot be perfected because our desire to reproduce cannot be overcome, so food production will never reach the demands of the population

Message: Humanity cannot be perfected. Unlike animals, humans possess reason, although reason alone cannot allow humans to overcome the instinct to reproduce. Each time food production increases, the population will increase to the point where there is a shortage of food. Humankind will be trapped in a cycle, which prevents the perfection of humankind.

The Wealth of Nations, 1776

Author: Adam Smith, who is also known as “the father of economics.” Smith’s Wealth of Nations is known as the first modern work of economics.

Context: Wealth of Nations was published three months after Thomas Paine’s pamphlet, Common Sense. Smith was writing during the time in which England was experiencing the industrial revolution, and the structure of the economy had changed drastically in a relatively short time period.

Language: The writing style is very clear and explanatory

Audience: The audience has more of an intellectual base, and is targeted towards those who wish to understand the workings of the relatively new economy.

Intent: To explain the division of labor

Message: The division of labor makes production more efficient and cheaper, and even simple items go through numerous stages of production. Due to this division, even poor and frugal individuals who live in a “civilized society” use items that require almost unimaginable amounts of labor.


Wealth and Population

Adam Smith primarily focuses the relationship individuals have with one another in a capitalist society, which he describes within An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.  Adam Smith begins his inquiry with a look into the division of labor among a population.  Smith determines that the individuals are most productive when they do what they are best at, through their own discovery of his/her own talents and abilities.  With his pin-maker scenario, Smith’s provides an easy to understand example for his ideal working conditions.  In which, Smith says that each step of pin-making is to be completed by a number of different individuals who specialize on one specific part of the process.  Smith views this division of labor to be vastly superior in contrast to an individual doing all the steps in creating a pin.  He believes it this division of labor will increase the amount of work and goods an individual can do, as well as cutting down on the length of time is takes to create a product. Additionally, he states that machinery can be put to more efficient use.Smith continues his inquiry, calling the possibility of maintaining subsistence for humankind.  He thinks that earth is simply incapable of keeping up with the forever increasing human population.

Smith’s sees the division of labor as a vital step into creating a healthy and productive economy.  The specialization of work in each individual allows for a large quantity of a specific piece of a product to be traded and sold to create a more completed product.  This product can then be traded for other products that individuals may require, thus promoting a large scale economy that spreads across nations and continents.

The Wealth of Nations and the Division of Labor

Adam Smith writes about the division of labor and its essential role in industry and innovation. He uses the example of a pin-maker with little experience, who may by himself manufacture only one pin in a day. There are as many as eighteen distinct steps that go into making a single pin; these are tasks that if all executed by one man take much longer to master and much longer to carry out. If these eighteen tasks are delegated to different pairs of hands however, each pair carrying out only two or three of these eighteen steps, the production of pins will skyrocket. This is also true for any industry. Even the simplest products take many steps and many different processes to manufacture. These individual tasks require varying levels of skill. When labor is divided among many different laborers there is less time wasted sauntering from task to task. A worker may concentrate on one task throughout the work day without switching his attention to another distinct task and having to adapt to that task after performing the previous one.

While it is natural for a person to saunter between tasks and to initially perform at a lower rate when starting a new task, it is also natural to innovate to improve efficiency. Smith uses the example of the boy responsible for opening and shutting alternately the communication between the boiler and the cylinder on the first fire engines. The boy naturally preferred to spend time with his friends over being constantly employed on the fire engine, so he invented a device to replace his job on the engine: he “observed that, by tying a string from the handle of the valve which opened this communication, to another part of the machine, the valve would open and shut without his assistance” thereby allowing him to “divert himself with his play-fellows.” Smith notes that the operators of machines are not the only drivers of innovation; the makers of machines and observers are also major drivers of innovation and improvements in efficiency. There are those whose only occupation is to observe and create improvements to existing machines and processes.

The division of labor in individual industries is an important device for efficiency, but specialization is also essential for innovation and efficiency. Smith points out all the different processes and industries that go into making something as simple as a wool coat: ship-builders, sail-makers, and rope-makers were needed to facilitate the ability to transport goods from place to place; tool-makers made the shears that were used to get the wool from the sheep and the shepherd raised that sheep. There are countless other professions and specialties that go into the seemingly simple process of making a wool coat. This is true for any other manufactured good as well.