Honoring Consumerism in Tiny Bird Bites.

Friday was the birthday of the sociologist and economist, Thorstein Veblen.

(from wikipedia)

Besides his technical work he was a popular and witty critic of capitalism, as shown by his best known book The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899).

uff da.
Uff da! Old Thorstein! Pass the lefse & lutefisk.

He combined sociology with economics in his masterpiece, The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899), arguing there was a basic distinction between the productiveness of “industry,” run by engineers, which manufactures goods, and the parasitism of “business,” which exists only to make profits for a leisure class. The chief activity of the leisure class was “conspicuous consumption“, and their economic contribution is “waste,” activity that contributes nothing to productivity. The American economy was therefore made inefficient and corrupt by the businessmen, though he never made that claim explicit. Veblen believed that technological advances were the driving force behind cultural change, but, unlike many contemporaries, he refused to connect change with progress.

In spite of difficulties of sometimes archaic language, caused in large part by Veblen’s struggles with the terminology of unilinear evolution and of biological determination of social variation that still dominated social thought when he began to write, Veblen’s work remains relevant, and not simply for the phrase “conspicuous consumption.” His evolutionary approach to the study of economic systems is once again in vogue and his model of recurring conflict between the existing order and new ways can be of great value in understanding the new global economy.

Historic marker in Wisconsin.


4 thoughts on “Honoring Consumerism in Tiny Bird Bites.

  1. In 1999, a colleague and I held a symposium at the Society of American Archaeology meetings in Seattle in honor of the 100th anniversary of the publication of “Theory of the Leisure Class”. The place was packed–archaeologists really grok on Veblen–for good reason.

    I think Veblen in a way was one of the chief originators of that whole irascible, iconoclastic style of academic, gleefully making fun of the society that supported him, which really took off in the 60s. Remember the Thorstein Veblen Memorial Blues Band?

  2. I think I share a lot of this guy’s perspective on life, though I hope I’m a tad better adjusted than he is (not saying much). I’d never heard of him before now. Thanks for resurrecting him.

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