Thorstein Veblen Essay

907 words - 4 pages

Thorstein Veblen was a political economist who lived from 1857 to 1929. Now the difference between a modern economist and a political economist is huge. A modern economist employs mathematical models to describe tiny bits of overall human economic activity, while the political economist tries to describe the ideas that create the larger picture. Thorstein Veblen was not the narrowly minded, trained specialist, he was an exceedingly curious generalist. Some claim that Thorstein Veblen was "The last man to know everything" (Larson, 1994) He earned his Ph.D.from Yale university, spoke twenty six languages, and wrote nine books, all of which are still in print.Thorstein Veblen's influences on American History began when he opened the country's eyes with his first book "The Theory of the Leisure Class". (1899) It's central concept, conspicuous consumption, is the one that is most readily associated with his name and appears frequently in the social sciences, the humanities, and public discourse, often without credit to it's creator. (Edgell,1992) This book catapulted Veblen from total obscurity, into a heroic figure for the various progressive movements of early 20th century America. (Larson,1994) The conspicuous consumption theory was seen by many, as an attack on the middle-class culture of America. (Carnes, Garraty, Pg. 503) The conspicuous consumption theory basically was part of Veblen's wider critique of the taken-for-granted preconceptions of economics which elevated accepted norms of self-interested economic behavior to absolute truth. Veblen's preference for the values and institutions of workmanship over the values and institutions of predation, denied ethical legitimacy to Modern Capitalism. (Fordham University, 1996) The thrust of Veblen's theory was that subordinate classes tend to be incorporated into the values of a leisure class dating from the pre-modern era.It's easy to see why there is so much discussion of the theory when you take a brief look at what it says, as summarized by Stephen Edgell in 2001.1. Since the beginnings of society, two types of activity are noticed; those with "workmanship" and "serviceability" and those which have "exploitation" and enhance social repute.2. When this knowledge is applied to the production of goods and services, two types of work may be noticed; labor occupations that are concerned with mechanical processes and "soft" occupations that are concerned with money; when this knowledge is applied to consumption, two types of commodities can be seen; useful, essential commodities for human life and useless one's for raising social standing.3. In working communities, emulation is like the work done there, so it is not as obvious, whereas where money dominates, emulation is all about money...

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