Conspicuous Consumption

Author:  The piece was written by Thorstein Veblen, an American economist and sociologist.  He is well known for his thinking in the field, as he applied Darwinian theory to economic analysis.

Context:  Written in 1902, Veblen was writing in the midst of the second Industrial Revolution.  As the middle class began to surge, many previously lower class individuals were becoming more prosperous.  Veblen observes this phenomenon, thus he writes Conspicuous Consumption.

Language: Veblen’s tone is analytic, observant, and unromantic.  His diction is advanced.

Audience: Veblen is writing for the a intellectual audience, as indicated by his advanced word choice.

Intent:  Veblen is pointing out the vast eruption of the middle class and its transformation into a consumer society, a society that spends money on luxury goods, in order to flaunt their wealth to others.  He sees this as relatively negative and criticizes them.

Message: Veblen makes an attempt to show that the world is becoming too materialistic, as many purchase items to simply show wealth; items that are otherwise useless.  He continues, saying that the rift between the rich and poor is becoming more vast, and the public displays of money only adds to this.

Veblen’s Conspicuous Consumption

Author: Thorstein Veblen was born in 1857 in Wisconsin and moved to Minnesota where he spent the majority of his childhood working on his family’s farm. His family was a part of an immigrant farming community that stressed hard work and dedication, explains his disdain for the effects of capitalism, as shown in his book The Theory of the Leisure Class.

Context: Veblen wrote about Conspicuous Consumption in 1902 in his book The Theory of the Leisure Class and coined the phrase as a way to describe the behavioral characteristics of the emerging social class that was a result of  acquired wealth during the Second Industrial Revolution.

Language: Veblen’s tone is educated and informative. He provides an in-depth analysis of conspicuous consumption and how if affects society as a whole.

Audience: Veblen wrote for a more sophisticated and educated audience, as his text is quite complex. He also writes from a more philosophical standpoint.

Intent: Veblen sought to inform his audience about what he defines as a further division of labor—that between different servant classes. He saw one portion of the servant class, mainly those whose pursuit is leisure, who had undertaken the hobby of the various consumption of goods. Veblen wanted to educate people about the families of the upper class who used their wealth as a way of revealing their social prominence and power.

Meaning: In his text, Veblen vehemently criticizes conspicuous consumption, which he considered to be the unnecessary spending of money on luxury items and services as a means to display societal power. According to Veblen, people should only spend what is necessary to live an adequate life. He writes; “When the quasi-peaceable stage of industry is reached, with its fundamental institution of chattel slavery, the general principle, more or less rigorously applied, is that the base, industrious class should consume only what may be necessary to their subsistence.”