Author: Ryan H Murphy

Conspicuous Consumption Is Not What You Think

The age of crass consumerism is dead Writing in the 19th century, Thorstein Veblen, the eminent sociologist and Progressive thinker, discovered an apparent failure of capitalism. Traditional economists saw consumption as a means of attaining individual ends, such as sustenance, pleasure, or a gift for your spouse. Contrary to this individualistic paradigm, however, Veblen perceived that in a social context, human beings care about relative status.  That is to say, where you are in the pecking order.  In his day, the nouveau riche spent money not to satisfy earthly desires, but to simply show off, to signal status. Veblen gave us theory of “conspicuous consumption.” In the 20th century, this behavior gained popularity amongst the middle class. It became “Keeping up with the Joneses.” The bigger car, the larger house, the air conditioner flipped to eleven in the middle of spring. The age of crass consumerism was upon us, with all the wasteful spending that it entailed. But that era is dead, and it is puzzling to understand why anyone would doubt its passing. I …