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In this context Thorstein Veblen shows that economists will always disagree on any solution. If their are 5 economists in the room you will get 6 different answers. Veblen saw two main groups of people. Those of the Leisure Class who are the rich rulers, who waste resources and set society's norms. The others conform as they are worried about fitting in and end up wasting time and money on things that have no benefit to them. Then he saw the industrial class as the solution. As industry develops, people become more and more matter of fact.
Veblen saw ancient but not modern religion as an example of the leisure class setting norms. He saw religious ornaments and ceremonies as a waste of time. He saw those working in the factory, and focusing on the matter of facts of breaking free of the norms established by the Leisure Class. To him ancient religion took control of people by using fear. However, he saw modern religion as good. He saw charities as giving back to the people, and he saw this as becoming more and more reality.
Unfortunately some of what Veblen has advocated has come to pass, and the world is no better. We have become more technological in our communication-internet and cellphones; and have less time for face to face communication. I miss those days. Another worrying thing is that Karl Marx was against family, religion and private property. Veblen was also against the traditional family, traditional religion and private property. He was against traditional family in the sense that the woman would concentrate on having children and pleasing her man instead of working in the family. Where they disagreed is that Marx saw technology as part of the ruling class, and making the life of everybody else miserable. Whereas Veblen saw the machine as ultimately liberating people. He also saw mankind on an evolutionary path, whereas Marx saw the end of capitalism as the 2nd to last stage.
In all Veblen, is a very interesting being as he comes from a very unique point of view. One last thing about ancient vs modern religion. 'Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world" James 1:27. So there you have it he wasn't against all forms of religion. I'm giving him 5 stars not because I agree or disagree with him, but simply cause he presented a different view in economics, and different economists have different views. And last of all yes he did write many books and articles, but most of his other books are just a build on. This book covers the majority of his ideas.
Why would a person read "The Theory of the Leisure Class" by Thorstein Veblen today? This book was written in 1899 by an economist though it is wider in scale than mere economics. I first came across it in 1970 when it was referred to by S I Hayakawa a somewhat indifferent scholar of general semantics as understood by Alfred Korbzybski. Hayakawa went on to be Senator in California after serving a time as president of San Francisco State University and having employed helicopters to teargas students. He is also mentioned in Robert L Heilbroner's "the Worldly Philosophers" where Adam Smith and Keynes are included in six leading economists which includes Thorstein Veblen, but I must get back to the topic. The relevance of this book today seems to be that we have returned to 1900 after a period of democracy which existed in America following the trust busting. Democracy has been gradually rolled back from the 70s. The rich 1% now control about 20% of the resources, tax rates are falling and democracy in United States seems to be on the way out. At the time when Thorstein Veblen was writing about 4% of American youth went to university, mainly from the elites where they could meet and marry each other. The state of American universities are such today that we may well revert to that position. The American ruling class has generally been industrious and not a leisure class: see the studies of G William Domhoff, though there do exist some tens of thousands who never work at all amongst the elites. One hopes that the leisure class is capable of contributing to culture either directly or through patronage, but when you look at the English leisure class of the 19th century, it seemed to consist of gentlemen (gentlefolk) who spent their whole time hunting, fishing and shooting; and not much was produced by them – mainly the middle classes looked after culture. In fact the word "culture" is looked down upon by the gentry who refer to themselves as civilised rather than "cultured" which is a middle-class word.
In this book Veblen coined the phrase "conspicuous consumption" though today the old rich indulge more in "inconspicuous consumption" and it is the Jetset and flashy newly arrives who flaunt their wealth in the form of McMansions and other forms of vulgarity. In Veblen's day it was the playing sports e.g. Polo, yachting, large wealth and working in essentially parasitic activities such as banking since this showed great wealth. His book is to be enjoyed for its prose style and I will finish this review with a quote from page 142 of the Dover edition:
"Employments fall into a hierarchical gradation of reputability. Those which have to do immediately with ownership on a large scale are the most reputable of economic employments proper. Next to these in good repute come those employments that are immediately subservient to ownership and financiering, – such as banking and the law. Banking employments also carry a suggestion of large ownership, and this fact is doubtless accountable for a share of the prestige that attaches to the business. The profession of law does not imply large ownership, but since no taint of usefulness, for other than competitive purpose, attaches to the lawyer's trade, it grades high in the conventional scheme. The lawyer is exclusively occupied with the details of predatory fraud, either in achieving or in checkmating chicane, and success in the profession is therefore accepted as marking a large endowment of that barbarian astuteness which has always commanded men's respect and fear".
It could be frustrating at times, but in a way it ended up being one of the reasons why I like this book; it made me curious and question things.
The author could make a good point clearly when he wanted too, and when he did I found it very insightful. But other times he would ramble on and end up with a couple confusing paragraphs that seemed to go off course for a moment.
I'd say this is a book of "half and half" in many aspects. Half of it is outdated, but a good amount of it is still very relevant today. Half of it makes good points clearly, the other half is a confusing mess. Half of it seems dead serious, the other half reads more like sarcasm or satire.
All in all, I'm glad I read it, and I'm sure I will continue thinking about the principles outlined as I observe the actions of society, whether they be the "leisure class" or those trying to emulate the leisure class.
This book is also very good for sharpening up one's vocabulary. I often look up words I'm not too familiar with and this book had me running to the dictionary several times.
The theory and commentary on society is as poignant today as when it was conceived.
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