Thorstein Veblen's Conspicuous Consumption

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Very few books in the history of economic thought still render an accurate portrayal of society today. Written 115 years ago, Thorstein Veblen’s The Theory of the Social Class (1899) describes a materialistic society obsessed with reputation and social status, echoing a portrayal of the modern capitalistic consumer culture that defines us today. As Roger Mason (1998), professor of consumer theory states: “Consuming for status has, in fact, become a defining element of the new consumer societies” (p.vii). In his treatise, Veblen’s discusses such a society, in order to portray the ‘leisure class’, the 19th century society that characterized the upper class that formed as a consequence of the Second Industrial Revolution. Such a society uses the consumption of goods and leisure as means of climbing up the social ladder. Veblen calls such types of consumption ‘conspicuous consumption’ and ‘conspicuous leisure’. A thorough summary of Veblen’s fourth chapter ‘Conspicuous Consumption’ will first be given. The Encyclopedia Britannica defines ‘conspicuous consumption’ as a “…the practice by consumers of using goods of a higher quality or in greater quantity than might be considered necessary in practical terms” (Phillips, 2014). The aim of such a practice is to advance, establish or maintain one’s reputation in order to achieve a higher social status or prove that you belong in one. An analysis of the impact and significance for economic theory and criticisms of Veblen’s theory of

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