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Veblen nd Conspicuous Consumption - Essay Example

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Written just one hundred yers go, Thorstein Veblen's Theory of the Leisure Clss ([1899] 1994) still represents powerful critique of the neoclssicl theory of consumption. In contrst to the individul's sttic mximiztion of utility ccording to exogenous preferences, s posited by the neoclssicl pproch, Veblen develops n evolutionry frmework in which preferences re determined socilly in reltion to the positions of individuls in the socil hierrchy…
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Veblen nd Conspicuous Consumption

Download file to see previous pages... longside continuing, though limited, role in minstrem economics (Bgwell nd Bernheim 1996; Bsmnn et l. 1988), the theory of conspicuous consumption hs in recent yers lso been subjected to considerble criticism from outside of this minstrem. Three min issues hve been rised. First, it hs been rgued tht Veblen's pproch is too restrictive in relying on the "trickle down" of consumption ptterns from the top of the socil hierrchy. The pcesetters for consumption my lso be those t the bottom of the hierrchy (Fine nd Leopold 1993; Lers 1993). It follows from this position tht conspicuous consumption lcks generlity s theory of consumption since it pplies only to luxury goods. Second, since Veblen's dy it hs been rgued tht consumers no longer disply their welth conspicuously. Sttus is conveyed in more sophisticted nd subtle wys (Cnterbery 1998; Mson 1998). nd third, for those writing in the postmodern trdition, consumer behvior is no longer shped by positions of s ocil clss but by lifestyles tht cut cross the socil hierrchy (Fetherstone 1991; McIntyre 1992). In this pper it will be exmined tht some extent these rguments misrepresent Veblen's originl conception of conspicuous consumption nd tke it out of context in reltion to his overll frmework.
Veblen's theory of conspicuous consump...
"It becomes indispensble to ccumulte, to cquire property, in order to retin one's good nme" (Veblen 1899, 29). hierrchy develops in which some people own property nd others do not. To own property is to hve sttus nd honor, position of esteem in this hierrchy: to hve no property is to hve no sttus.
Of course, the ccumultion of property cn indicte tht person hs been efficient nd productive--it cn indicte prowess in finncil mtters. But Veblen rgues tht inherited welth confers even more sttus thn welth tht is gined through efficiency. "By further refinement, welth cquired pssively by trnsmission from ncestors to other ntecedents presently becomes even more honorific thn welth cquired by the possessor's own effort" (Veblen [1899] 1994, 29). The old money held by ristocrtic fmilies provides the most sttus since it estblishes the most distnce from the work required for its ccumultion.
Key to the trnsformtion of welth into sttus is the socil performnce of members of the leisure clss. Stbs derives from the judgments tht other members of society mke of n individul's position in society, nd for this position to be estblished there must be disply of welth. Veblen identifies two min wys in which n individul cn disply welth: through extensive leisure ctivities nd through lvish expenditure on consumption nd services. The common thred tht runs through both of these types of disply is "the element of wste tht is common to both. ... In the one cse it is wste of time nd effort, in the other it is wste of goods" (Veblen [1899] 1994, 85). Being ble to engge in such wsteful ctivities is the key wy in which members of the leisure clss disply their welth nd sttus.
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