economic theory in social class contexts

Thorstein Veblen initiated a new approach to economic theory that took account of evolving social and institutional contexts and considered their human implications. In his examination of the leisure class, he looks at non-economic features of their social life. In this economic analysis he probes the beginning of time and travels down through history to discover the origin of the leisure class. Specific Areas to Be Covered Veblen examines the demand and consumption of the upper classes of society in terms that are not traditionally used in economics.

In using terms such as conspicuous consumption, pecuniary emulation and conspicuous leisure, Veblen is basically doing a demand and supply analysis of the classes of society. He looks at the consumption patterns of the upper class because this affects the rest of society through the mechanism of emulation. Summary Pecuniary Emulation Veblen claims that the pecuniary struggle is the driving force behind the development of culture and society. Pecuniary emulation or, put simply, “keeping up the Jones. is the notion that once we have all the things we need to survive, we begin to consume products not just to sustain our being, but also to emulate others, those whose earnings are beyond us. By employing an evolutionary analysis he is able to show a distant pattern that can still be seen today. He showed, for example, how the “conspicuous consumption,” “conspicuous emulation” and “conspicuous waste” practiced by the leisure class has left society with negative values, broadly setting “predatory” exploit over and above “productive” workmanship. Bookrags. com)

Pecuniary Standard of Living It is the community that decides the standard of consumption that it feels is honorable. Once the standard of living is determined, it is difficult to change. Changing habits is a slow purpose. The wider the distance between the classes and the slower the degree of class mobility, the slower the process of change. The standards are determined by conspicuous waste and workmanship. These and the predatory animus shape the standard of life. Veblen: 105) The wider the distance between the classes and the slower the degree of class mobility, the slower the process of change. The standards are determined by conspicuous waste and workmanship. Conspicuous Consumption Veblen notes that the common element of conspicuous leisure and conspicuous consumption is waste. Conspicuous leisure represents a waste of time and effort, whereas conspicuous consumption represents a waste of goods. Both are methods of demonstrating the possession of wealth and the two are usually accepted as the same.

There are at least two conceptions of conspicuous consumption in the “The Theory of the Leisure Class,” these are: (1) Conspicuous consumption characterized by particular end-results or as a function. (2) Conspicuous consumption as intention, motive, or instinct. Thorsten Veblen’s conspicuous consumption stems from the division of wealth that was infinitely more obvious a hundred years ago when the divide between the haves and have-nots was easier to establish though the divide is in actuality even wider today.

Thorsten Veblen’s conspicuous consumption grew from pecuniary emulation. In order to gain and to hold the esteem of people it is not sufficient merely to possess wealth or power. The wealth most be evident because esteem is only awarded on evidence. Without ignoring the role of the upper class as a catalyst in the dynamics of middle-class consumer frenzy, it is evident that status emulation and consumer gratification have become a rationale for the existence of the class itself. Conspicuous Waste Dress is an example of conspicuous waste.

The way in which people dress is always on display and represents the pecuniary standing of the individual. Dress is more for show than for protection. Many times people do not protect themselves from the weather because they are more concerned with their appearances. They want to appear to be fashionable. Veblen talks about dress being a spiritual need. The individual has a need to conform to the standards of taste. If an item of clothing is cheap, it is considered to be unworthy and inferior. Cheap imitations of expensive hand-made items don’t have the aesthetic quality that the original items do.

Individuals should wear expensive clothes that indicate that they do not engage in any form of productive employment. (Veblen: 168) Conclusion Societal change is the result of the forces of economics. Many changes come about in response to pecuniary pressures. Since the upper classes are not as subject to these pressures as other elements of society, they are the most resistant to change because change affects their habits and lifestyle. But change does occur and this is one of the things that Veblen looks at.

In order to examine the consumption and leisure habits of the leisure class, Veblen looked at their lifestyles. In doing so, he examined not only their characteristics but also their activities and manner of dress among other things. Viewing their activities and spending habits o in terms of conspicuous consumption and waste, showed that they are related to the display of status and not to functionality or usefulness. They avoid any kind of employment that is productive, since these are not considered to be honorable activities.

This is the basis on which society forms and economic life functions. Comparison The term conspicuous consumption is credited to Veblen, but the idea comes from Karl Marx’s theory of commodity fetishism. Both are rooted in the same place, the unsatisfied consumer. Commodity fetish was to Marx, what conspicuous consumption is to Veblen. Under capitalism, the owners of the means of production own the commodity. So that the commodity itself does not result in true consciousness and does not reflect humanity, and when humans are drawn to the commodity they are left empty.

Additionally, “most of the needs we have are produced through the existence of the commodities: the idea of the commodity came from the capitalists seeking profit and our awareness and our desire for the commodity were created through advertising. ” (Allen 2007:26) This according to Marx produces a false consciousness. This is another Marxian theory, that refers to the misrepresentation of the dominate social relations in the consciousness of the subordinate classes. Marx’s ideology could be conversely compared to Veblen’s pecuniary emulation. Ideology, for Marx refers to ideas through which people understand their world.

Marx goes on to assert that ideology and thought are dependent on ones material circumstances, so then, material circumstances determine consciousness. “The hand-mill gives you society with the feudal lord; the steam-mill with the industrial capitalist. ” (Marx: 1971) Veblen could also be compared Michael Foucault’s theory “from subject to object,” in which he postulates that, “perhaps the most insidious form of power is that which is exercised by our self over how we think and feel; it is the power we exercise in the name of others over ourselves. (Allen 2007:530)

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