Thorstein Veblen

Thorstein Bunde Veblen (/ˈθɔːrstaɪn ˈvɛblən/; born Torsten Bunde Veblen; July 30, 1857 – August 3, 1929) was a Norwegian-American economist and sociologist who became famous as a witty critic of capitalism.

Veblen is known for the idea of "conspicuous consumption". People engage in conspicuous consumption, along with "conspicuous leisure", to demonstrate wealth or to mark social status. Veblen explains the concept in his best-known book, The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899). Historians of economic thought regard Veblen as the leader of the institutional economics movement. Contemporary economists still call Veblen's distinction between "institutions" and "technology" the Veblenian dichotomy.[3]

As a leading intellectual of the Progressive Era in the United States of America, Veblen attacked production for profit. His emphasis on conspicuous consumption greatly influenced the socialist thinkers who engaged in non-Marxist critiques of capitalism and of technological determinism.

Thorstein Veblen
Thorstein Bunde Veblen (1857–1929)
BornJuly 30, 1857
DiedAugust 3, 1929 (aged 72)
FieldEvolutionary economics; sociology
School or
Institutional economics
Alma materCarleton College
Johns Hopkins University
Yale University (PhD, 1884)
InfluencesHerbert Spencer,[1] Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, William Graham Sumner, Karl Marx, Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud, Friedrich Nietzsche, Lester F. Ward, William James, William McDougall, Georges Vacher de Lapouge, Edward Bellamy, John Dewey, Gustav von Schmoller, John Bates Clark, Henri de Saint-Simon,[2] Charles Fourier[2]
ContributionsConspicuous consumption, Conspicuous leisure, penalty of taking the lead, ceremonial/instrumental dichotomy, Technocracy movement
Thorstein Veblen signature


Early life and family background

The Thorstein Veblen Farmstead in 2014

Veblen was born on July 30, 1857, in Cato, Wisconsin, to Norwegian American immigrant parents, Thomas Veblen and Kari Bunde - the fourth of twelve children in the Veblen family. His parents had emigrated from Norway to Milwaukee, Wisconsin on September 16, 1847, with few funds and no knowledge of English. Despite their limited circumstances as immigrants, Thomas Veblen's knowledge in carpentry and construction paired with his wife's supportive perseverance allowed them to establish a family farm - now a National Historic Landmark - in Nerstrand, Minnesota. This farmstead and other similar settlements were referred to as "little Norways", oriented to the religious and cultural traditions of the old country. Veblen spent most of his childhood at the farmstead.[4]

Veblen began his schooling at the age of five. Since Norwegian was his first language, he learned English from neighbors and at school. His parents also learned to speak English fluently, though they continued to read predominantly Norwegian literature with and around their family on the farmstead. The family farm eventually grew more prosperous, allowing Veblen's parents to provide their children with formal education. Unlike most immigrant families of the time, Veblen and all of his siblings received training in lower schools and went on to receive higher education at the nearby Carleton College. Veblen's sister, Emily, was reputedly the first daughter of Norwegian immigrants to graduate from an American college.[5] The eldest Veblen child, Andrew A. Veblen, ultimately became a professor of physics at Iowa State University and the father of one of America's leading mathematicians, Oswald Veblen of Princeton University.[6]

Several commentators have seen Veblen's Norwegian background and his relative isolation from American society as essential to the understanding of his writings. Sociologist and educator David Riesman maintains that his background as a child of immigrants meant that Veblen was alienated from his parents' previous culture, but that his living in a Norwegian society within America made him unable to completely "assimilate and accept the available forms of Americanism".[7] According to George M. Fredrickson the Norwegian society Veblen lived in was so isolated that when he left it "he was, in a sense, emigrating to America".[8]


At age 17, in 1874, Veblen was sent to attend nearby Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. Early in his schooling, he demonstrated both the bitterness and the sense of humor that would characterize his later works.[9] Veblen studied economics and philosophy under the guidance of the young John Bates Clark (1847–1938), who went on to become a leader in the new field of neoclassical economics. Clark's influence on Veblen was great, and as Clark initiated him into the formal study of economics, Veblen came to recognize the nature and limitations of hypothetical economics that would begin to shape his theories. Veblen later developed an interest in the social sciences, taking courses within the fields of philosophy, natural history, and classical philology. Within the realm of philosophy, the works of Immanuel Kant and Herbert Spencer were of greatest interest to him, inspiring several preconceptions of socio-economics. In contrast, his studies in natural history and classical philology shaped his formal use of the disciplines of science and language respectively.[10]

After Veblen graduated from Carleton in 1880 he traveled east to study philosophy at Johns Hopkins University. While at Johns Hopkins he studied under Charles Sanders Peirce. When he failed to obtain a scholarship there he moved on to Yale University, where he found economic support for his studies, obtaining a Ph.D. in 1884, with a major in philosophy and a minor in social studies. His dissertation was titled "Ethical Grounds of a Doctrine of Retribution". At Yale, he studied under renowned academics such as philosopher Noah Porter and sociologist William Graham Sumner.[11]

Academic career

After graduation from Yale in 1884, Veblen was essentially unemployed for seven years. Despite having strong letters of recommendation, he was unable to obtain a university position. It is possible that his dissertation research on "Ethical Grounds of a Doctrine of Retribution" (1884) was considered undesirable. However this possibility can no longer be researched because Veblen's dissertation has been missing from Yale since 1935.[12] Apparently the only scholar who ever studied the dissertation was Joseph Dorfman, for his 1934 book Thorstein Veblen and His America. Dorfman says only that the dissertation, advised by evolutionary sociologist William Graham Sumner, studies such evolutionary thought as that of Herbert Spencer, as well as the moral philosophy of Kant.[13] Some historians have also speculated that this failure to obtain employment was partially due to prejudice against Norwegians, while others attribute this to the fact that most universities and administrators considered him insufficiently educated in Christianity.[14] Most academics at the time held divinity degrees, which Veblen did not have. Also, it did not help that Veblen openly identified as an agnostic, which was highly uncommon for the time. As a result, Veblen returned to his family farm, a stay during which he had claimed to be recovering from malaria. He spent those years recovering and reading voraciously.[15] It is suspected that these difficulties in beginning his academic career later inspired portions of his book The Higher Learning in America (1918), in which he claimed that true academic values were sacrificed by universities in favor of their own self-interest and profitability.[16]

In 1891, Veblen left the farm to return to graduate school to study economics at Cornell University, under the guidance of economics professor James Laurence Laughlin. With the help of Professor Laughlin, who was moving to the University of Chicago, Veblen became a fellow at that university in 1892. Throughout his stay, he did much of the editorial work associated with the Journal of Political Economy, one of the many academic journals created during this time at the University of Chicago. Veblen used the journal as an outlet for his writings. His writings also began to appear in other journals, such as the American Journal of Sociology, another journal at the university. While he was mostly a marginal figure at the University of Chicago, Veblen taught a number of classes there.[11]

In 1899, Veblen published his first and best-known book, titled The Theory of the Leisure Class. This did not immediately improve Veblen's position at the University of Chicago. He requested a raise after the completion of his first book, but this was denied.[14] Eventually, as the book received attention, Veblen was promoted to the position of assistant professor. Struggling at the University of Chicago, Veblen accepted a position of associate professor at Stanford University.

Veblen's students at Chicago considered his teaching "dreadful".[9] Stanford students considered his teaching style "boring". But this was more excusable than some of Veblen's personal affairs. He offended Victorian sentiments with extramarital affairs while at the University of Chicago.[9] At Stanford in 1909, Veblen was ridiculed again for being a womanizer and an unfaithful husband. As a result, he was forced to resign from his position, which made it very difficult for him to find another academic position.[17] One story claims that he was fired from Stanford after Mrs. Leland Stanford sent him a telegram from Paris, having disapproved of Veblen's support of Chinese "coolie" workers in California.[18]

With the help of Herbert J. Davenport, a friend who was the head of the economics department at the University of Missouri, Veblen accepted a position there in 1911. Veblen, however, did not enjoy his stay at Missouri. This was in part due to his position as a lecturer being of lower rank than his previous positions and for lower pay. Veblen also strongly disliked the town of Columbia, where the university was located.[19] Although he may not have enjoyed his stay at Missouri, in 1914 he did publish another of his best-known books, The Instincts of Worksmanship and the State of the Industrial Arts (1914). After World War I began, Veblen published Imperial Germany and the Industrial Revolution (1915). He considered warfare a threat to economic productivity and contrasted the authoritarian politics of Germany with the democratic tradition of Britain, noting that industrialization in Germany had not produced a progressive political culture.[20]

By 1917, Veblen moved to Washington, D.C. to work with a group that had been commissioned by President Woodrow Wilson to analyze possible peace settlements for World War I, culminating in his book An Inquiry into the Nature of Peace and the Terms of Its Perpetuation (1917).[20] This marked a series of distinct changes in his career path.[21] Following that, Veblen worked for the US Food Administration for a period of time. Shortly thereafter, Veblen moved to New York City to work as an editor for a magazine, The Dial. Within the next year, the magazine shifted its orientation and he lost his editorial position.[10]

In the meantime, Veblen had made contacts with several other academics, such as Charles A. Beard, James Harvey Robinson, and John Dewey. The group of university professors and intellectuals eventually founded The New School for Social Research (known today as The New School) in 1919 as a modern, progressive, free school where students could "seek an unbiased understanding of the existing order, its genesis, growth, and present working".[22] From 1919 to 1926, Veblen continued to write and maintain a role in The New School's development. It was during this time that he wrote The Engineers and the Price System.[23] In it, Veblen proposed a soviet of engineers.[24] According to Yngve Ramstad,[25] the view that engineers, not workers, would overthrow capitalism was a "novel view". Veblen invited Guido Marx to the New School to teach and to help organize a movement of engineers, by such as Morris Cooke; Henry Laurence Gantt, who had died shortly before; and Howard Scott. Cooke and Gantt were followers of Taylor's scientific management theory. Scott, who listed Veblen as being on the temporary organizing committee of the Technical Alliance, perhaps without consulting Veblen or other listed members, later helped found the Technocracy movement.[26][27] Veblen had a penchant for socialism and believed that technological developments would eventually lead toward a socialistic organization of economic affairs. However, his views on socialism and the nature of the evolutionary process of economics differed sharply from that of Karl Marx; while Marx saw socialism as the final political precursor to communism, the ultimate goal for civilization, and saw the working class as the group that would establish it, Veblen saw socialism as one intermediate phase in an ongoing evolutionary process in society that would be brought about by the natural decay of the business enterprise system and by the inventiveness of engineers.[28] Daniel Bell sees an affinity between Veblen and the Technocracy movement.[29] Janet Knoedler and Anne Mayhew demonstrate the significance of Veblen's association with these engineers, while arguing that his book was more a continuation of his previous ideas than the advocacy others see in it.[30]

Influences on Veblen

German Historical School

The German Historical School rejected the individual as its unit of analysis, instead searching for a more holistic unit of analysis, which inspired Veblen to do the same. The School and Veblen alike preferred this inclusive unit of analysis to ask how and why human behavior evolves throughout history. The skepticism of the School regarding laissez-faire economics was also adopted by Veblen.[31]

Darwinian evolution

Veblen was deeply influenced by the Darwinian belief in the principle of causality. Unlike the German School, Darwin's theories were systematically connected and explained series of seemingly disconnected phenomena throughout life.[32] He developed a theoretical system of his own, inspired by Darwin's theories, which recognized natural and observable forces, rather than divine and teleological ones. With this, Veblen also critiqued the neoclassical beliefs of economics, which stated that economics were passive and essentially inert. Upon this critique, Veblen built his theories of economics.[33]


American pragmatists distrusted the notion of the absolute and instead recognized the notion of free will. Rather than God's divine intervention taking control of the happenings of the universe, pragmatism believed that people, using their free will, shape the institutions of society. Veblen also recognized this as an element of causes and effects, upon which he based many of his theories. This pragmatist belief was pertinent to the shaping of Veblen's critique of natural law and the establishment of his evolutionary economics, which recognized the purpose of man throughout.[34]


Veblen concurred with Marx in that there existed a few parasitic owners of the means of production in society who used means of exploitation to maintain that control. While Marx saw the proletariat as rising up against the ruling class, Veblen believed that the proletariat would instead emulate the ruling class. This belief served as the basis for Veblen's theory of conspicuous consumption.[35] Overall, Veblen held Marx's economic theories in a high regard. Veblen and Marx also shared similar ideas regarding the importance of technology in provoking social change.

Contributions to social theory

Veblen - Theory of the leisure class, 1924 - 5854536
The Theory of the Leisure Class, 1924

Institutional economics

Thorstein Veblen laid the foundation for the perspective of institutional economics with his criticism of traditional static economic theory.[36] As much as Veblen was an economist, he was also a sociologist who rejected his contemporaries who looked at the economy as an autonomous, stable, and static entity. Veblen disagreed with his peers, as he strongly believed that the economy was significantly embedded in social institutions. Rather than separating economics from the social sciences, Veblen viewed the relationships between the economy and social and cultural phenomena. Generally speaking, the study of institutional economics viewed economic institutions as the broader process of cultural development. While economic institutionalism never transformed into a major school of economic thought, it allowed economists to explore economic problems from a perspective that incorporated social and cultural phenomena. It also allowed economists to view the economy as an evolving entity of bounded rationale.[37]

Conspicuous consumption

In his most famous work, The Theory of the Leisure Class, Veblen writes critically of the leisure class for its role in fostering wasteful consumption.[36] In this first work Veblen coined the term "conspicuous consumption", which he defined as spending more money on goods than they are worth. The term originated during the Second Industrial Revolution when a nouveau riche social class emerged as a result of the accumulation of capital wealth. He explains that members of the leisure class, often associated with business, are those who also engage in conspicuous consumption in order to impress the rest of society through the manifestation of their social power and prestige, be it real or perceived. In other words, social status, Veblen explained, becomes earned and displayed by patterns of consumption rather than what the individual makes financially.[38] Subsequently, people in other social classes are influenced by this behavior and, as Veblen argued, strive to emulate the leisure class. What results from this behavior, is a society characterized by the waste of time and money. Unlike other sociological works of the time, The Theory of the Leisure Class focused on consumption, rather than production.[39]

Conspicuous leisure

Conspicuous leisure, or the non-productive use of time for the sake of displaying social status, is used by Veblen as the primary indicator of the leisure class. To engage in conspicuous leisure is to openly display one's wealth and status, as productive work signified the absence of pecuniary strength and was seen as a mark of weakness. As the leisure class increased their exemption from productive work, that very exemption became honorific and actual participation in productive work became a sign of inferiority. Conspicuous leisure worked very well to designate social status in rural areas, but urbanization made it so that conspicuous leisure was no longer a sufficient means to display pecuniary strength. Urban life requires more obvious displays of status, wealth, and power, which is where conspicuous consumption becomes prominent.[40]

Leisure class

In The Theory of the Leisure Class, Veblen writes critically of conspicuous consumption and its function in social-class consumerism and social stratification.[37] Reflecting historically, he traces said economic behaviors back to the beginnings of the division of labor, or during tribal times. Upon the start of a division of labor, high-status individuals within the community practiced hunting and war, notably less labor-intensive and less economically productive work. Low-status individuals, on the other hand, practiced activities recognized as more economically productive and more labor-intensive, such as farming and cooking.[41] High-status individuals, as Veblen explains, could instead afford to live their lives leisurely (hence their title as the leisure class), engaging in symbolic economic participation, rather than practical economic participation. These individuals could engage in conspicuous leisure for extended periods of time, simply following pursuits that evoked a higher social status. Rather than participating in conspicuous consumption, the leisure class lived lives of conspicuous leisure as a marker of high status.[42] The leisure class protected and reproduced their social status and control within the tribe through, for example, their participation in war-time activities, which while they were rarely needed, still rendered their lower social class counterparts dependent upon them.[43] During modern industrial times, Veblen described the leisure class as those exempt from industrial labor. Instead, he explains, the leisure class participated in intellectual or artistic endeavors to display their freedom from the economic need to participate in economically productive manual labor. In essence, not having to perform labor-intensive activities did not mark higher social status, but rather, higher social status meant that one would not have to perform such duties.[44]

Theory of business enterprise

The central problem for Veblen was the friction between "business" and "industry". Veblen identified "business" as the owners and leaders whose primary goal was the profits of their companies but, in an effort to keep profits high, often made efforts to limit production. By obstructing the operation of the industrial system in that way, "business" negatively affected society as a whole (through higher rates of unemployment, for example). With that said, Veblen identified business leaders as the source of many problems in society, which he felt should be led by people such as engineers, who understood the industrial system and its operation, while also having an interest in the general welfare of society at large.[45]

Veblen's economics and politics

Veblen and other American institutionalists were indebted to the German Historical School, especially Gustav von Schmoller, for the emphasis on historical fact, their empiricism and especially a broad, evolutionary framework of study.[46] Veblen admired Schmoller, but criticized some other leaders of the German school because of their overreliance on descriptions, long displays of numerical data and narratives of industrial development that rested on no underlying economic theory. Veblen tried to use the same approach with his own theory added.[47]

Probably the clearest inheritors of Veblen's ideas that humans do not rationally pursue value and utility through their conspicuous consumption are adherents of the school of behavioral economics, who study the ways consumers and producers act against their own interests in apparently non-rational ways.

Veblen developed a 20th century evolutionary economics based upon Darwinian principles and new ideas emerging from anthropology, sociology, and psychology. Unlike the neoclassical economics that emerged at the same time, Veblen described economic behavior as socially determined and saw economic organization as a process of ongoing evolution. Veblen rejected any theory based on individual action or any theory highlighting any factor of an inner personal motivation. According to him, such theories were "unscientific". This evolution was driven by the human instincts of emulation, predation, workmanship, parental bent, and idle curiosity. Veblen wanted economists to grasp the effects of social and cultural change on economic changes. In The Theory of the Leisure Class, the instincts of emulation and predation play a major role. People, rich and poor alike, attempt to impress others and seek to gain advantage through what Veblen termed "conspicuous consumption" and the ability to engage in "conspicuous leisure". In this work Veblen argued that consumption is used as a way to gain and signal status. Through "conspicuous consumption" often came "conspicuous waste", which Veblen detested. He further spoke of a "predatory phase" of culture in the sense of the predatory attitude having become the habitual spiritual attitude of the individual.[48]

In The Theory of Business Enterprise, published in 1904 during the height of American concern with the growth of business combinations and trusts, Veblen employed his evolutionary analysis to explain these new forms. He saw them as a consequence of the growth of industrial processes in a context of small business firms that had evolved earlier to organize craft production. The new industrial processes impelled integration and provided lucrative opportunities to those who managed it. What resulted was, as Veblen saw it, a conflict between businessmen and engineers, with businessmen representing the older order and engineers as the innovators of new ways of doing things. In combination with the tendencies described in The Theory of the Leisure Class, this conflict resulted in waste and "predation" that served to enhance the social status of those who could benefit from predatory claims to goods and services.

Veblen generalized the conflict between businessmen and engineers by saying that human society would always involve conflict between existing norms with vested interests and new norms developed out of an innate human tendency to manipulate and learn about the physical world in which we exist. He also generalized his model to include his theory of instincts, processes of evolution as absorbed from Sumner, as enhanced by his own reading of evolutionary science, and pragmatic philosophy first learned from Peirce. The instinct of idle curiosity led humans to manipulate nature in new ways and this led to changes in what he called the "material means of life". Because, according to the pragmatists, our ideas about the world are a human construct rather than mirrors of reality, changing ways of manipulating nature lead to changing constructs and to changing notions of truth and authority as well as patterns of behavior (institutions). Societies and economies evolve as a consequence, but do so via a process of conflict between vested interests and older forms and the new. Veblen never wrote with any confidence that the new ways were better ways, but he was sure, in the last three decades of his life, that the American economy could, in the absence of vested interests, have produced more for more people. In the years just after World War I he looked to engineers to make the American economy more efficient.

In addition to The Theory of the Leisure Class and The Theory of Business Enterprise, Veblen's monograph Imperial Germany and the Industrial Revolution, and his many essays, including "Why is Economics Not an Evolutionary Science", and "The Place of Science in Modern Civilization", remain influential.

Veblen and political theories

Politically, Veblen was sympathetic to state ownership. Scholars mostly disagree about the extent to which Veblen's views are compatible with Marxism,[49] socialism, or anarchism. Veblen believed that technological developments would eventually lead to a socialist economy, but his views on socialism and the nature of the evolutionary process of economics differed sharply from Karl Marx's. Veblen saw socialism as an intermediate phase in an ongoing evolutionary process that would arise due to natural decay of the business enterprise system.

Personal life


The two primary relationships that Veblen had were with his first two wives, although he was known to engage in extramarital affairs throughout his life.

During his time at Carleton, Veblen met his first wife, Ellen Rolfe, the niece of the college president. They married in 1888. While some scholars have attributed his womanizing tendencies to the couple's numerous separations and eventual divorce in 1911, others have speculated that the relationship's demise was rooted in Ellen's inability to bear children. Following her death in 1926, it was revealed that she had asked for her autopsy to be sent to Veblen, her ex-husband. The autopsy showed that Ellen's reproductive organs had not developed normally, and she had been unable to bear children.[50] A book written by Veblen's stepdaughter asserted that "this explained her disinterest in a normal wifely relationship with Thorstein" and that he "treated her more like a sister, a loving sister, than a wife".[51]

Veblen married Ann Bradley Bevans, a former student, in 1914 and became stepfather to her two girls, Becky and Ann. For the most part, it appears that they had a happy marriage. Ann was described by her daughter as a suffragette, a socialist, and a staunch advocate of unions and workers' rights. A year after he married Ann, they were expecting a child together, but the pregnancy ended in a miscarriage. Veblen never had any children of his own.[52]


After his wife Ann's premature death in 1920, Veblen became active in the care of his stepdaughters. Becky went with him when he moved to California, looked after him there, and was with him at his death in August 1929,[52] just a few months shy of the Great Depression, the economic crisis he had anticipated in Absentee Ownership and Business Enterprise in Recent Times.[53] Prior to his death, Veblen had earned a comparatively high salary from the New School. Since he lived frugally, Veblen invested his money in California raisin vineyards and the stock market. Unfortunately, after returning to northern California, Veblen lost the money he had invested and was living in a town shack while earning $500 to $600 a year from royalties and was sent $500 a year from a former Chicago student.[10]

Veblen's intellectual legacy

In spite of his sometimes archaic language, caused in part by Veblen's struggles with the terminology of unilinear evolution and of biological determination of social variation that still dominated social thought when he began to write, Veblen's work remains relevant, and not simply for the phrase "conspicuous consumption". His evolutionary approach to the study of economic systems is again in vogue and his model of recurring conflict between the existing order and new ways can be of value in understanding the new global economy.[54]

The handicap principle of evolutionary sexual selection is often compared to Veblen's "conspicuous consumption".[55]

Veblen is regarded as one of the co-founders (with John R. Commons, Wesley Clair Mitchell, and others) of the American school of institutional economics. Present-day practitioners who adhere to this school organise themselves in the Association for Evolutionary Economics (AFEE) and the Association for Institutional Economics (AFIT). AFEE gives an annual Veblen-Commons award for work in Institutional Economics and publishes the Journal of Economic Issues. Some unaligned practitioners include theorists of the concept of "differential accumulation".[56]

Veblen is cited in works of feminist economists.[57] Veblen's work has also often been cited in American literary works. He is featured in The Big Money by John Dos Passos, and mentioned in Carson McCullers' The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter and Sinclair Lewis's Main Street. One of Veblen's Ph.D. students was George W. Stocking, Sr., a pioneer in the emerging field of industrial organization economics. Another was Canadian academic and author Stephen Leacock, who went on to become the head of Department of Economics and Political Science at McGill University. The influence of Theory of the Leisure Class can be seen in Leacock's 1914 satire, Arcadian Adventures with the Idle Rich.



  • — (1899). The Theory of the Leisure Class. New York: MacMillan. Also at Project Gutenberg
  • — (1904). The Theory of Business Enterprise. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.
  • — (1914). The Instinct of Workmanship and the State of the Industrial Arts. New York: MacMillan.
  • — (1915). Imperial Germany and the Industrial Revolution. New York: MacMillan.
  • — (1917). An Inquiry into the Nature of Peace and the Terms of Its Perpetuation. New York: MacMillan. Also at Project Gutenberg
  • — (1918). The Higher Learning In America: A Memorandum On the Conduct of Universities By Business Men. New York: B. W. Huebsch.
  • — (1919). The Place of Science in Modern Civilisation and Other Essays. New York: B. W. Huebsch. Also at Project Gutenberg
  • — (1919). The Vested Interests and the Common Man. New York: B. W. Huebsch.
  • — (1921). The Engineers and the Price System. New York: B. W. Huebsch.
  • — (1923). Absentee Ownership and Business Enterprise in Recent Times: The Case of America. New York: B. W. Huebsch.


See also


  1. ^ Veblen 1898.
  2. ^ a b Horowitz 2001, p. 142.
  3. ^ Waller, Jr. 1982.
  4. ^ Tilman 1996, pp. 7–10.
  5. ^ Melton, William (1995). "Thorstein Veblen and the Veblens" (PDF). Norwegian-American Studies. 34. Retrieved 11 June 2019. Emily was reputedly the first Norwegian girl to graduate from a college in the United States [...].
  6. ^ Dobriansky 1957, pp. 6–9.
  7. ^ Riesman 1953, p. 206.
  8. ^ Fredrickson 1959.
  9. ^ a b c Ritzer 2011, pp. 196–197.
  10. ^ a b c Ritzer 2011, p. 197.
  11. ^ a b Tilman 1996, p. 12.
  12. ^ Samuels, Warren (2002). The Founding of Institutional Economics. p. 225.
  13. ^ Dorfman 1934.
  14. ^ a b Ritzer 2011, p. 196.
  15. ^ Dobriansky 1957, p. 6.
  16. ^ Abercrombie, Hill & Turner 2006, pp. 409–410.
  17. ^ Tilman 1996, p. 27.
  18. ^ Sica 2005, p. 311.
  19. ^ Diggins 1978, p. 4.
  20. ^ a b Abercrombie, Hill & Turner 2006, p. 410.
  21. ^ Dobriansky 1957, p. 24.
  22. ^ "Which New Schooler Are You Most Like?". The New School.
  23. ^ Ritzer 2011, p. 14.
  24. ^ Tilman 1992.
  25. ^ Ramstad 1994.
  26. ^ Adair 1970.
  27. ^ Bell 1980.
  28. ^ Wood 1993, p. 369: "The decisive difference between Marx and Veblen lay in their respective attitudes on socialism. For while Marx regarded socialism as the ultimate goal for civilization, Veblen saw socialism as but one stage in the economic evolution of society."
  29. ^ Bell 1963.
  30. ^ Knoedler & Mayhew 1999.
  31. ^ Duggar 1979, p. 426.
  32. ^ Duggar 1979, p. 429.
  33. ^ Dowd 1966, p. 106.
  34. ^ Duggar 1979, p. 432.
  35. ^ Dowd 1966, p. 24.
  36. ^ a b Hodgson 2004, pp. 125–194.
  37. ^ a b Diggins 1978.
  38. ^ Dowd 1966, p. 32.
  39. ^ Ritzer 2011, pp. 196–198.
  40. ^ Parker & Sim 1997, pp. 368–369.
  41. ^ Dowd 1966, pp. 25–27.
  42. ^ Diggins 1978, pp. 57–60.
  43. ^ Dowd 1966, p. 113.
  44. ^ Diggins 1978, p. 72-75.
  45. ^ Rutherford 1980.
  46. ^ Veblen 1901.
  47. ^ Chavance, p. 10.
  48. ^ Veblen, 1899 & holdithereA9The predatory phase of culture is attained only when the predatory attitude has become the habitual and accredited spiritual attitude for the members of the group; when the fight has become the dominant note in the current theory of life; when the common-sense appreciation of men and things has come to be an appreciation with a view to combat.", Ch. 1.
  49. ^ Simich & Tilman 1982.
  50. ^ Dobriansky 1957, p. 12.
  51. ^ Tilman 1996, pp. 12–14.
  52. ^ a b Tilman 1996, pp. 14–15.
  53. ^ Diggins 1978, p. 10.
  54. ^ Jones, Ann (2019-04-11). "The Man Who Saw Trump Coming A Century Ago; A Reader's Guide for the Distraught". Tom Dispatch. Retrieved 2019-04-11.
  55. ^ Zahavi 2010.
  56. ^ Nitzan & Bichler 2002, Ch. 2.
  57. ^ Mayhew 1999.


  • Abercrombie, Nicholas; Hill, Stephen & Turner, Bryan S. (2006). Dictionary of Sociology. London: Penguin Books.
  • Adair, David (1970). The Technocrats 1919–1967: A Case Study of Conflict and Change in a Social Movement (PDF) (M.A.). Simon Fraser University. Retrieved 12 February 2015.
  • Bell, Daniel (Autumn 1963). "Veblen and the New Class". The American Scholar. The Phi Beta Kappa Society. 32 (4): 616–638. JSTOR 41209141.
  • Bell, Daniel (1980) [1st. pub. 1963]. "Veblen and the Technocrats: On the Engineers and the Price System". The Winding Passage: Sociological Essays and Journeys. Abt Books.
  • Chavance, Bernard (2009). Institutional Economics. New York: Routledge. ISBN 9780415449113.
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External links

Association for Evolutionary Economics

The Association for Evolutionary Economics (AFEE) is an international organization of economists working in the institutionalist and evolutionary traditions of Thorstein Veblen, John R. Commons and Wesley Mitchell. It is part of the Allied Social Sciences Association (ASSA), a group of approximately 55 organizations including the American Economics Association (AEA), that holds a three-day meeting each January.

Conspicuous leisure

Conspicuous leisure is a concept introduced by the American economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen, in The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899). Conspicuous or visible leisure is engaged in for the sake of displaying and attaining social status. The concept comprises those forms of leisure that seem to be fully motivated by social factors, such as taking long vacations to exotic places and bringing souvenirs back. Conspicuous leisure is observed in all societies where stratification exists. Conspicuous leisure contributes to the glorification of non-productivity, thus validating the behavior of the most powerful classes and leading the lower classes to admire rather than revile the leisure class. This aids the leisure class in retaining their status and material position. Veblen's more well-known concept of "conspicuous consumption" is employed when non-productivity can be more effectively demonstrated through lavish spending.

Veblen argued that conspicuous leisure had deep historical roots reaching back into prehistory, and that it "evolved" into different forms as time passed. One example he gave was how, during the Middle Ages, the nobility was exempted from manual labor, which was reserved for serfs. Like owning land, abstaining from labor is a typical display of wealth and one that becomes more problematic as society develops into an industrial one. With the emergence of individual ownership, the leisure class completely stops contributing to the wellbeing of their community. They no longer perform honor-positions, thus totally negating their usefulness to the society. And as society moves away from hunting and agriculture, and towards industrialization, the leisure class can no longer simply take resources from others. This is where Veblen offers us an image of the decaying Lord or Lady who has lost his or her fortune but is unable to engage in labor in order to live. These wealthy elite see labor as menial and vulgar, yet once they can no longer live their worthy life of leisure they suffer from an inability to preserve themselves.

Veblen defines leisure as the non-productive consumption of time. The wealthy consume time unproductively due to a disgust of menial labor but also as evidence of their pecuniary ability to live idle lives. But there are moments when even the noble is not viewed publicly and then he must give a satisfactory account of his use of time. Often his account will manifest through the appearance of servants or some sort of craftsmen. A material proof of leisure is another way that the noble demonstrates his wealth even when he is out of the public's eye. Objects or trophies or knowledge that has no real-world application are all examples of the things that the wealthy use to demonstrate their wealth and their leisure. Displaying rules of etiquette and breeding, and formal and ceremonial observances are other demonstrations of unproductive (and therefore leisurely) uses of time.

It is also not enough for the leisure class to live a life of idleness; their servants must also engage in the performance of leisure despite their position as hired help. They are given uniforms, spacious quarters and other material items that signal the wealth of their employer: the more lavish the servants' dress and quarters, the more money the master has to spend freely. This is an example of "conspicuous consumption," a form of conspicuous leisure. House servants give the illusion of "pecuniary decency" to the household, despite the physical discomfort that the leisure class feels at the sight of servants, who produce labor.

Geoffrey Hodgson

Geoffrey Martin Hodgson (born 28 July 1946, Watford) is a Professor in Management at the London campus of Loughborough University, and also the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Institutional Economics.

Hodgson is recognised as one of the leading figures of modern critical institutionalism which carries forth the critical spirit and intellectual tradition of the founders of institutional economics, particularly that of Thorstein Veblen. His broad research interests span from evolutionary economics and history of economic thought to Marxism and theoretical biology. He first became known for his book Economics and Institutions: A Manifesto for a Modern Institutional Economics (1988), which criticises modern 'mainstream' economics and calls to revise economic theory on the new grounds of institutionalism. His reputation has become enhanced owing to the trilogy of more recent books – Economics and Utopia (1999), How Economics Forgot History (2001) and The Evolution of Institutional Economics (2004) all of which built Hodgson's arguments into a more rounded and powerful critique of mainstream economic theory.

In 1988, Hodgson was involved in setting up the European Association for Evolutionary Political Economy (EAEPE). He was its general secretary until 1998. In 2000 Hodgson co-founded The Other Canon, a center and network for heterodox economics research, with main founder and executive chairman Erik Reinert and others. In 2013, Hodgson co-founded the World Interdisciplinary Network for Institutional Research (WINIR). In his 2015 book "Conceptualizing Capitalism" and an article entitled "Legal Institutionalism", he sketched his own research program of a legal institutionalism.

Institutional economics

Institutional economics focuses on understanding the role of the evolutionary process and the role of institutions in shaping economic behaviour. Its original focus lay in Thorstein Veblen's instinct-oriented dichotomy between technology on the one side and the "ceremonial" sphere of society on the other. Its name and core elements trace back to a 1919 American Economic Review article by Walton H. Hamilton. Institutional economics emphasizes a broader study of institutions and views markets as a result of the complex interaction of these various institutions (e.g. individuals, firms, states, social norms). The earlier tradition continues today as a leading heterodox approach to economics."Traditional" institutionalism rejects the reduction of institutions to simply tastes, technology, and nature (see naturalistic fallacy). Tastes, along with expectations of the future, habits, and motivations, not only determine the nature of institutions but are limited and shaped by them. If people live and work in institutions on a regular basis, it shapes their world views. Fundamentally, this traditional institutionalism (and its modern counterpart institutionalist political economy) emphasizes the legal foundations of an economy (see John R. Commons) and the evolutionary, habituated, and volitional processes by which institutions are erected and then changed (see John Dewey, Thorstein Veblen, and Daniel Bromley.) Institutional economics focuses on learning, bounded rationality, and evolution (rather than assuming stable preferences, rationality and equilibrium). It was a central part of American economics in the first part of the 20th century, including such famous but diverse economists as Thorstein Veblen, Wesley Mitchell, and John R. Commons. Some institutionalists see Karl Marx as belonging to the institutionalist tradition, because he described capitalism as a historically-bounded social system; other institutionalist economists disagree with Marx's definition of capitalism, instead seeing defining features such as markets, money and the private ownership of production as indeed evolving over time, but as a result of the purposive actions of individuals.

A significant variant is the new institutional economics from the later 20th century, which integrates later developments of neoclassical economics into the analysis. Law and economics has been a major theme since the publication of the Legal Foundations of Capitalism by John R. Commons in 1924. Since then, there has been heated debate on the role of law (a formal institution) on economic growth. Behavioral economics is another hallmark of institutional economics based on what is known about psychology and cognitive science, rather than simple assumptions of economic behavior.

Some of the authors associated with this school include Robert H. Frank, Warren Samuels, Marc Tool, Geoffrey Hodgson, Daniel Bromley, Jonathan Nitzan, Shimshon Bichler, Elinor Ostrom, Anne Mayhew, John Kenneth Galbraith and Gunnar Myrdal, but even the sociologist C. Wright Mills was highly influenced by the institutionalist approach in his major studies.

International Institute of Sociology

The International Institute of Sociology (IIS) is a scholarly organization which seeks to stimulate and facilitate the development, exchange, and application of scientific knowledge to questions of sociological relevance. Membership is open to all sociologists as well as to scholars in neighbouring disciplines.

Created in Paris in 1893 by René Worms, it is the oldest continuous sociological association in existence. Its first congress was held in Paris in October 1894 under the chairmanship of René Worms, which formalised the foundation of this institution. The Révue internationale de sociologie, founded the year before, became the printed organ of the Institute. Since its foundation the goal of the IIS has been to bring together sociologists from around the world. It has a longstanding tradition of promoting discussions on the most crucial theoretical issues of the day and on the practical use of social scientific knowledge. Among its members and associates were prominent scholars such as: Franz Boas, Roger Bastide, Lujo Brentano, Theodor Geiger, Gustave Le Bon, Karl Mannheim, William F. Ogburn, Pitirim Sorokin, Georg Simmel, Werner Sombart, Gabriel Tarde, Ferdinand Toennies, Thorstein Veblen, Lester F. Ward, Eliezer Ben-Rafael, Sidney Webb, Max Weber, Florian Znaniecki, and Ludwig GumplowiczEvery two years the IIS organizes a world congress in Sociology. Recent IIS World Congresses were held in Yerevan (2009), Budapest (2008), Stockholm (2005), Beijing (2004), Kraków (2001), Tel Aviv (1999), Köln (1997), Trieste (1995), Paris (1993), Kobe (1991), and Rome (1989).

In addition to the congresses and other meetings, the IIS publishes the Annales de l'Institut International de Sociologie / Annals of the International Institute of Sociology. First published in 1895 after the first world congress, this book series seeks to present cutting-edge research and synthesis.

List of authors of Macmillan Publishing (United States)

The following is a list of authors of Macmillan Publishing

Winston Churchill's novel Richard Carvel in 1899

Thorstein Veblen The Theory of the Leisure Class in 1899

Upton Sinclair's The Jungle in 1906

Jack London's The Call of the Wild in 1903

William Butler Yeats

Rabindranath Tagore

Liberty Hyde Bailey

Francis Marion Crawford’s Saracinesca

Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind in 1936

Rachel Field's All This, and Heaven Too in 1938

Kathleen Winsor's Forever Amber in 1944

C. S. Lewis

Marianne Moore

Ayn Rand's book We the Living in 1936

Cathy Scott's The Murder of Biggie Smalls in 2001

Doug Worgul's Thin Blue Smoke in 2009

Michael Stewart

Elle and Blair Fowler, Beneath the Glitter and Where Beauty Lies in 2012 and 2013

Judd Trichter, Love in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction in 2015

Nerstrand, Minnesota

Nerstrand is a city in Rice County, Minnesota, United States. The population was 295 at the 2010 census.Minnesota State Highway 246 serves as a main route in the community. Minnesota State Highways 56 and 60 are nearby.

Non-equilibrium economics

Non-equilibrium economics understands economic processes as non-equilibrium phenomena, as opposed to standard neoclassical equilibrium economics. This approach is consistent with our understanding of life processes as non-equilibrium phenomena. It is represented by modern researchers in the fields of evolutionary-institutional economics, Post Keynesian economics, Ecological Economics, development and growth economics. The early contributions to this theory were made by Thorstein Veblen, Gunnar Myrdal, Karl William Kapp and Nicholas Kaldor. Many contributions have been made to this field in recent years, such as "The Foundations of Non-Equilibrium Economics: The Principle of Circular Cumulative Causation" (2009), Routledge.Related fields of economics include Complexity economics and Evolutionary economics.

Power theory of economics

Developed by Yasuma Takada in a series of lectures at Kyoto University, the power theory of economics is mostly based on a critique of both mainstream economics as well as heterodox economics theories of unemployment, most notably Keynsian economics and Marxian economics. The theory accommodates Thorstein Veblen, Vilfredo Pareto and Joseph Schumpeter.

Takada sometimes referred to the theory as a second order approximation, as introducing a theory of power relations into the materialism of economics was seen as one step closer to a true picture of socio-economic relationships.

Shimshon Bichler

Shimshon Bichler is an educator who teaches political economy at colleges and universities in Israel. Along with Jonathan Nitzan, Bichler has created an engaging power theory of capitalism and theory of differential accumulation in their analysis of the political economy of wars, Israel, and globalization.

Technical Alliance

The Technical Alliance was a group of engineers, scientists, and technicians based in New York City, formed towards the end of 1919 by American engineer Howard Scott. The Alliance started an Energy Survey of North America, aimed at documenting the wastefulness of the capitalist system.The Technical Alliance advocated a more rational and productive society headed by technical experts, but their survey work failed to have a significant impact. Although some waste was documented, the "prosperity and conservatism of the 1920s undermined the political orientation of the Technical Alliance", and it disbanded in 1921, and the energy survey was not completed.The Technical Alliance was by no means a mass organization, but it did have some notable members and technical experts. Apart from Scott, other members of the Technical Alliance included:

Frederick L. Ackerman

Carl C. Alsberg

Alice Barrows

Allen Carpenter

Stuart Chase

L.K. Comstock

Bassett Jones

Robert H. Kohn

Benton MacKaye

Leland Olds

Charles P. Steinmetz

Richard C. Tolman

John C. Vaughan

Thorstein Veblen

Charles H. Whitaker

Technological determinism

Technological determinism is a reductionist theory that assumes that a society's technology determines the development of its social structure and cultural values. Technological determinism tries to understand how technology has had an impact on human action and thought. Changes in technology are the primary source for changes in society. The term is believed to have originated from Thorstein Veblen (1857–1929), an American sociologist and economist. The most radical technological determinist in the United States in the 20th century was most likely Clarence Ayres who was a follower of Thorstein Veblen and John Dewey. William Ogburn was also known for his radical technological determinism.

The first major elaboration of a technological determinist view of socioeconomic development came from the German philosopher and economist Karl Marx, who argued that changes in technology, and specifically productive technology, are the primary influence on human social relations and organizational structure, and that social relations and cultural practices ultimately revolve around the technological and economic base of a given society. Marx's position has become embedded in contemporary society, where the idea that fast-changing technologies alter human lives is all-pervasive.

Although many authors attribute a technologically determined view of human history to Marx's insights, not all Marxists are technological determinists, and some authors question the extent to which Marx himself was a determinist. Furthermore, there are multiple forms of technological determinism.

The Engineers and the Price System

The Engineers and the Price System, by Thorstein Veblen, is a compilation of a series of papers originally published in The Dial in 1919, each of which mainly analyzes and criticizes the price system, planned obsolescence, and artificial scarcity. The final chapter outlined a plan for a "soviet of technicians".

The Theory of the Leisure Class

The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions (1899), by Thorstein Veblen, is a treatise on economics and a detailed, social critique of conspicuous consumption, as a function of social class and of consumerism, derived from the social stratification of people and the division of labour, which are the social institutions of the feudal period (9th–15th centuries) that have continued to the modern era.

Veblen asserts that the contemporary lords of the manor, the businessmen who own the means of production, have employed themselves in the economically unproductive practices of conspicuous consumption and conspicuous leisure, which are useless activities that contribute neither to the economy nor to the material production of the useful goods and services required for the functioning of society, while it is the middle class and the working class who are usefully employed in the industrialised, productive occupations that support the whole of society.

Conducted in the late 19th century, Veblen's socio-economic analyses of the business cycles and the consequent price politics of the U.S. economy, and of the emergent division of labour, by technocratic speciality – scientist, engineer, technologist, et al. – proved to be accurate, sociological predictions of the economic structure of an industrial society.

Thorstein Veblen Farmstead

The Thorstein Veblen Farmstead is a National Historic Landmark near Nerstrand in rural Rice County, Minnesota, United States. The property is nationally significant as the childhood home of Thorstein B. Veblen (1857-1929), an economist, social scientist, and critic of American culture probably best known for The Theory of the Leisure Class, published in 1899.

Trained incapacity

In sociology, trained incapacity is "that state of affairs in which one's abilities function as inadequacies or blind spots." It means that people's past experiences can lead to wrong decisions when circumstances change. Thorstein Veblen invented the concept in 1933.


Veblen may refer to:

Thorstein Veblen (1857–1929), American economist and sociologist

Thomas T. Veblen, American forester

Veblen good, named after Thorstein Veblen

Oswald Veblen (1880–1960), American mathematician (Thorstein Veblen's nephew)

Veblen, South Dakota, city in Marshall County, South Dakota, United States

31665 Veblen, main-belt asteroid

Veblen good

Veblen goods are types of luxury goods for which the quantity demanded increases as the price increases, an apparent contradiction of the law of demand, resulting in an upward-sloping demand curve. A higher price may make a product desirable as a status symbol in the practices of conspicuous consumption and conspicuous leisure. A product may be a Veblen good because it is a positional good, something few others can own.

Veblen goods are named after American economist Thorstein Veblen, who first identified conspicuous consumption as a mode of status-seeking in The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899). A corollary of the Veblen effect is that lowering the price decreases the quantity demanded.

Veblenian dichotomy

The Veblenian dichotomy is a concept first suggested by sociologist and economist Thorstein Veblen in 1899, in The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions. Veblen made the concept fully into an analytical principle in his 1904 book, The Theory of Business Enterprise. Throughout these and many other writings by Veblen, this analytical principle was a distinction between what he called "institutions" and "technology".

To Veblen, institutions determine how technologies are used. Some institutions are more "ceremonial" than others. A project for Veblen's idealized economist is to be identifying institutions that are too wasteful, and pursuing institutional "adjustment" to make instituted uses of technology more "instrumental". Veblen defines "ceremonial" as related to the past, supportive of "tribal legends" or traditional conserving attitudes and conduct; while the "instrumental" orients itself toward the technological imperative, judging value by the ability to control future consequences.The theory suggests that although every society depends on tools and skills to support the life process, every society also appears to have a "ceremonial" stratified structure of status that runs contrary to the needs of the "instrumental" (technological) aspects of group life.

Institutional economists
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