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THORSTEIN VEBLEN [1857-1929], AMERICAN ECONOMIST
AND SOCIAL CRITIC


# BORN IN MINNESOTA. PARENTS WERE FARMERS,
NORWEGIAN IMMIGRANTS TO THE U.S.

# HIS MOST INFLUENTIAL BOOK: THEORY OF THE LEISURE
CLASS [1899]. THE BOOK IS CONCERNED WITH THE DEEP
SENSE OF SUPERIORITY THAT THE RICH HAVE, MERELY
BECAUSE THEY ARE WEALTHY. BUT WHAT GOOD IS BEING
RICH IF PEOPLE DON'T KNOW YOU ARE RICH? THIS IS WHY
MANY WEALTHY PEOPLE GO IN FOR PUBLIC DISPLAYS OF
EXTRAVAGANT SPENDING ["CONSPICUOUS CONSUMPTION"].
IT'S DONE SO EVERYONE ELSE WILL KNOW THEY ARE RICH
-- THUS, SUPERIOR.

     
# VEBLEN MOCKED THE WEALTHY CLASSES OF THE LATE
19TH CENTURY. HE COINED THE PHRASE "CONSPICUOUS
CONSUMPTION" & "CONSPICIOUS LEISURE."  EX. WHEN
CARNEGIE BUILT A 200-ROOM CASTLE IN SCOTLAND, HE IN
EFFECT WAS PRACTICING "CONSPICIOUS CONSUMPTION,"
FLAUNTING HIS WEALTH, IN EFFECT SAYING TO THE WORLD
"LOOK AT WHAT A SUCCESFUL PERSON I AM: I MUST BE A
SUCCESS IF I CAN AFFORD THIS ESTATE."


# MAIN THEME THAT RUNS THROUGH VEBLEN'S THINKING:
HUMAN SOCIETY FROM EARLIEST TIMES HAS BEEN DIVIDED
INTO THE PRODUCERS AND THE PREDATORS.

     # IN MIDDLE AGES, BARONS WERE THE PREDATORS
EXPLOITING THE HARD LABOR OF THE SERFS.

     # IN MODERN CAPITALIST, THE BOURGEOIS OWNERS
OF BUSINESSES EXPLOITED THE PROLETARIAN WORKERS.

     # IN MODERN AMERICA, THE ENGINEERS ARE THE
GREAT PRODUCERS, APPLYING SCIENCE TO THE EFFICIENT
PRODUCTION OF GOODS.

# VEBLEN WAS OF COURSE NOT FIRST TO EMPHASIZE THIS
PRODUCER-PREDATOR THEME. MARX HAD STRESSED THE
BOURGEOIS' EXPLOITATION OF THE PROLETARIAT.


THORSTEIN VEBLEN [1857-1929], AMERICAN ECONOMIST
AND SOCIAL CRITIC [C]

# AND THE EARLY 19TH CENTURY POLITICAL THINKER
SAINT-SIMON HAD SAID: WHAT IF THE ENTIRE NOBLE
CLASS OF EUROPE WERE TO DISAPPEAR. WOULD THE RESULT
BE TRIVIAL OR CATASTROPHIC? NO ONE WOULD MISS THEM,
THEY PLAY NO ESSENTIAL ROLE. ON THE OTHER HAND, IF
THE TOP SCIENTISTS, ENGINEERS, INVENTORS WERE TO
DISAPPEAR, THE RESULT WOULD BE CATASTROPIC FOR
EUROPE.

     # BUT FROM VEBLEN'S PERSPECTIVE, MANY BUSINESS
PEOPLE, SUCH AS FINANCIERS, DID NOT DO ANY USEFUL
WORK, CREATED NOTHING. THEY MERELY MANEUVERED TO
EXPROPRIATE THE WEALTH THAT PRODUCTIVE PEOPLE
CREATED.

     # THE BROKERS AND FINANCIAL PEOPLE ON WALL
STREET CREATE NOTHING: THERE ARE NO INVENTORS
THERE, ONLY SCHEMERS WHO FIND A WAY TO TAKE THE
WEALTH SCIENTIST, ENGINEERS, AND OTHER PRODUCTIVE
PEOPLE CREATE.

# THE INDUSTRIAL SYSTEM, HE SAID, REQUIRED WORKERS
TO BE DILIGENT, EFFICIENT, COOPERATIVE, WHILE THOSE
WHO RULED THE BUSINESS WORLD WERE CONCERNED WITH
MAKING MONEY AND DISPLAYING THEIR WEALTH. THEIR
OUTLOOK WAS A SURVIVAL FROM A PREDATORY BARBARIAN
PAST. VEBLEN EXAMINED WITH RELISH THE "MODERN
SURVIVALS OF PROWESS" IN THE AMUSEMENTS, FASHIONS,
SPORTS, RELIGION, AND ESTHETIC TASTES OF THE RULING
CLASS."

 
# VEBLEN BELIEVED THAT MANY BUSINESS PEOPLE NOT
ONLY CREATED NOTHING, BUT THEY ACTUALLY THREW
A MONKEY WRENCH INTO THE EFFICIENT WORKINGS OF THE
INDUSTRIAL SYSTEM. THEY DELIBERATELY CUT BACK ON
PRODUCTION TO FORCE UP PRICES.


# DISGUSTED WITH THE BUSINESS-PERSON'S PREDATORY
MENTALITY, VEBLEN URGED AMERICA'S ENGINEERS TO RISE
UP AND SEIZE CONTROL OF THE INDUSTRIAL SYSTEM, TO
USHER IN A NEW AGE OF ABUNDANCE.  THIS IDEAS WERE
SET FORTH IN VEBLEN'S 1921 BOOK ENTITLED "THE
ENGINEERS AND THE PRICE SYSTEM."


# IN SUM, VEBLEN SAW THE WEALTHY LEISURE CLASS AS
PARASITES WHO DO HARM TO THE ECONOMY.

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