Conspicuous Consumption by Thorstein Veblen – Lost in “Education”

June 27, 2010 at 5:52 pm (In So Many Words, Reviews, The Whim) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Veblen was a famous sociologist and economist in his day (roughly turn of the century, writing his most well-known essay in 1899).  He even had his own movement! (Institutional Economics Movement).  Whether someone agrees or disagrees with his theories and how the world should be, there is no doubt about the fact that his observations on how the world is, carries a stunning amount of accuracy.

Why did we never read this for school?  The relevancy is uncanny.  The way the times haven’t changed is disturbing.  I am definitely adding this to my required reading list for when I home school my child.

This book in reality is a 100 page essay or so, not long in the slightest and should take the reader a mere hour or two to digest and properly process (depending on the reader).  What I plan to have my child address when I require this to be read are the following questions (and I’d like to know what you guys think too, if you’ve read this):

How do Veblen’s ideas tie into Darwin’s evolutionary theories?

How do they interact with Marxism and Capitalism?

How are his ideas relevant today?

How are the leisure class and ownership related, according to Veblen?  What are the roots of conventional ownership and of marriage?  Consider contemporary phrases like “trophy wife.”  (How does this affect gender roles?)

Veblen sees “emulation” as a key feature of social life in “predatory societies.”  How do the patterns of emulation change as predatory societies change?

What fundamental criticism does Veblen make of standard economics?

I actually have quite a few more that I have borrowed from other sites, essay questions and discussions to be had are all noted in a journal I am keeping of projects and assignments to remember.  My point in posting the blog today, however, is this:

How did something so famous, so moving and so relevant – something Penguin even published in their Great Ideas series – get neglected in my own education?  Not just high school with basic history, social studies, and economics, but also in college when half my life was filled with economic theory and consumer behavior as I earned a Marketing degree?  I am realizing more and more the importance of not just reading about movements and theories, not just getting summaries from textbooks, but reading the original documents!  How can your education be complete without going back to what started the ideas in the first place?  How can you presume to know anything about anything if all your information comes from a summary in a textbook and you’ve never even heard of the essay that initiated the need for that summary?

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  1. Andrew said,

    “Why did we never read this for school?”
    – Yea, it’s almost ridiculous just how sick the education system is with short attention spans, fickle political leanings, and influential special-interest-groups. And that’s just in the administration!

    Way too often education has changed only due to the fads and whims of some new academic theory or the going-out-of-style of something else. It sounds like this is just another case in point. Mind you, he was a critic of capitalism and corporatism, yes? While not being terribly well-versed in Christianity. So how do you think that could play out in America at the time?

    Google has a preview of his other work, The Theory of the Leisure Class, but no preview of Conspicuous Consumption. Is there a copy of it online anywhere? You got my curiosity now.

    • anakalianwhims said,

      The Theory of the Leisure Class I believe is part of Conspicuous Consumption, or perhaps they are simply one and the same. The headings within the book I have are all “The Leisure Class” and “Admission of the Leisure Class” etc. My edition is a Great Ideas Penguin pocket. They are inexpensive and relatively easy to find, I’m trying to collect the whole set as it includes Symposium, The Communist Manifesto, and more.

  2. Andrew said,


    Yea, I should have looked closer at the table of contents.

    Sorry for my silliness.

    Congrats by the way on the pregnancy and all the “fun” changes you are going to deal with!

  3. Bill Bryson, I adore You « Anakalian Whims said,

    […] If you haven’t yet been there, you find yourself intrigued.  If you’ve ever read Conspicuous Consumption, you can’t help but notice how Bryson spells out the concepts Veblen’s concepts with […]

  4. Economic Education « Anakalian Whims said,

    […] Thorstein Veblen’s Conspicuous Consumption […]

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