Thorstein Veblen, fully Thorstein Bunde Veblen, born Torsten Bunde Veblen

Veblen, fully Thorstein Bunde Veblen, born Torsten Bunde Veblen

Norwegian-American Sociologist and Economist, Leader of the Institutional Economics Movement

Author Quotes

The new order of industrial ways and means has been progressively going out of touch with the essential requirements of this established scheme of individual self-help and personal initiative, on the realization and maintenance of which the best endeavors of the Liberals have habitually been spent.

The process of developing an aesthetic nausea takes more or less time; the length of time required in any given case being inversely as the degree of intrinsic odiousness of the style in question...the more rapidly the styles succeed and displace one another, the more offensive they are to sound taste.

The substantial ground of this high requirement in dissipation is in the last analysis no other than that same propensity for a manifestation of dominance and pecuniary decency which makes the French peasant-proprietor parsimonious and frugal, and induces the American millionaire to found colleges, hospitals and museums. If the canon of conspicuous consumption were not offset to a considerable extent by other features of human nature, alien to it, any saving should logically be impossible for a population situated as the artisan and laboring classes of the cities are at present, however high their wages or their income might be.

The workman has become subsidiary to the mechanical equipment, and productive industry has become subservient to business, in all those countries which have come in for the latter-day state of the industrial arts, and which so have fallen under the domination of the price system.

A standard of living is of the nature of acts almost solely to prevent recession from a scale of conspicuous expenditure that has once become habitual.

Any change in men's views as to what is good and right in human life make its way but tardily at the best. Especially is this true of any change in the direction of what is called progress; that is to say, in the direction of divergence from the archaic position?from the position which may be accounted the point of departure at any step in the social evolution of the community.

At an earlier... stage of barbarism, the leisure class is found in a less differentiated form. Neither the class distinctions nor the distinctions between leisure-class occupations are so minute and intricate...The men of the upper classes are not only exempt, but by prescriptive custom they are debarred, from all industrial occupations. The range of employments open to them is rigidly defined. As on the higher [feudal] plane... these employments are government, warfare, religious observances, and sports. These four lines of activity govern the scheme of life of the upper classes, and for the highest rank?the kings or chieftains?these are the only kinds of activity that custom or the common sense of the community will allow.

By use and wont, in the Liberal scheme of statecraft as well as in the scheme of freely competitive business, implicit faith has hitherto been given to the remedial effect of punitive competition and the punitive correction of excesses by law and custom. It has been a system of adjustment by punitive afterthought. All of which may once have been well enough in its time, so long as the rate and scale of the movement of things were slow enough and small enough to be effectually overtaken and set to rights by afterthought. The modern -- eighteenth-century -- point of view presumes an order of things which is amenable to remedial adjustment after the event. But the new order of industry, and that sweeping equilibrium of material forces that embodies the new order, is not amenable to afterthought. Where human life and human fortunes are exposed to the swing of the machine system, or to the onset of national ambitions that are served by the machine industry, it is safety first or none.

During the stage of quasi-peaceable industry, and especially during the earlier development of industry within ... this general stage... Women and other slaves are highly valued, both as an evidence of wealth and as a means of accumulating wealth. Together with cattle, if the tribe is a pastoral one, they are the usual form of investment for a profit...women even come to serve as a unit of value... as for instance in Homeric times. Where this is the case... the basis of the industrial system is chattel slavery... The accepted evidence of wealth is the possession of many women, and presently also of other slaves.

From the ownership of women the concept of ownership extends itself to include the products of their industry, and so there arises the ownership of things as well as of persons.

Immaterial evidences of past leisure are quasi-scholarly or quasi-artistic accomplishments and a knowledge of processes and incidents which do not conduce directly to the furtherance of human life...unless these accomplishments had approved themselves as serviceable evidence of an unproductive expenditure of time, they would not have survived and held their place as conventional accomplishments of the leisure class.

In persons of a delicate sensibility who have long been habituated to gentle manners, the sense of the shamefulness of manual labor may become so strong that, at a critical juncture, it will even set aside the instinct of self-preservation.

Institutions are not only themselves the result of a selective and adaptive process which shapes the prevailing or dominant types of spiritual attitude and aptitudes; they are at the same time special methods of life and of human relations, and are therefore in their turn efficient factors of selection.

It is needless to point out the close analogy at this point between the priestly office and the office of the footman. It is pleasing to our sense of what is fitting... to recognize in the obvious perfunctoriness of the service that it is a pro forma execution only. There should be no show of agility or of dexterous manipulation in the execution of the priestly office, such as might suggest a capacity for turning off the work.

Many objects, as... the precious stones and the metals and some other materials used for adornment and decoration, owe their utility as items of conspicuous waste to an antecedent utility as objects of beauty. Gold, for instance, has a high degree of sensuous beauty; very many if not most of the highly prized works of art are intrinsically beautiful, though often with material qualification; the like is true of some stuffs used for clothing, of some landscapes, and of many other things in less degree...But the utility of these things to the possessor is commonly due less to their intrinsic beauty than to the honor which their possession and consumption confers, or to the obloquy which it wards off.

On the transition to the predatory culture the character of the struggle for existence changed in some degree from a struggle of the group against a non-human environment to a struggle against a human environment...This change was accompanied by an increasing antagonism and consciousness of antagonism between the individual members of the group...Among these archaic traits that are to be regarded as survivals from the peaceable cultural phase, are that instinct of race solidarity which we call conscience, including the sense of truthfulness and equity, and the instinct of workmanship, in its naive, non-invidious expression.

Relatively stable styles and types of costume have been worked out in various parts of the world; as, for instance, among the Japanese, Chinese, and other Oriental nations; likewise among the Greeks, Romans, and other Eastern peoples of antiquity so also, in later times, among the peasants of nearly every country of Europe...usually, less obviously wasteful; that is to say, other elements than that of a display of expense are more readily detected in their structure...The countries and classes which have in this way worked out stable and artistic costumes have been so placed that the pecuniary emulation among them has taken the direction of a competition in conspicuous leisure rather than in conspicuous consumption of goods.

Social advance, especially as seen from the point of view of economic theory, consists in a continued progressive approach to an approximately exact "adjustment of inner relations to outer relations", but this adjustment is never definitively established, since the "outer relations" are subject to constant change as a consequence of the progressive change going on in the "inner relations."

The business man's place in the economy of nature is to "make money," not to produce goods. The production of goods is a mechanical process, incidental to the making of money; whereas the making of money is a pecuniary operation, carried on by bargain and sale, not by mechanical appliances and powers. The business men make use of the mechanical appliances and powers of the industrial system, but they make a pecuniary use of them. And in point of fact the less use a business man can make of the mechanical appliances and powers under his charge, and the smaller a product he can contrive to turn out for a given return in terms of price, the better it suits his purpose. The highest achievement in business is the nearest approach to getting something for nothing. What any given business concern gains must come out of the total output of productive industry, of course; and to that extent any given business concern has an interest in the continued production of goods. But the less any given business concern can contrive to give for what it gets, the more profitable its own traffic will be.

The corset is, in economic theory, substantially a mutilation, undergone for the purpose of lowering the subject's vitality and rendering her permanently and obviously unfit for work.

The expensive splendor of the house of worship has an appreciable uplifting and mellowing effect upon the worshipper's frame of mind...any evidence of indigence or squalor about the sacred place affects all beholders.

The institution of a leisure class, by force or class interest and instinct, and by precept and prescriptive example, makes for the perpetuation of the existing maladjustment of institutions, and even favors a reversion to a somewhat more archaic scheme of life; a scheme which would be still farther out of adjustment with the exigencies of life under the existing situation even than the accredited, obsolescent scheme that has come down from the immediate past.

The norm of conspicuous waste is incompatible with the requirement that dress should be beautiful or becoming. And this antagonism offers an explanation of that restless change in fashion which neither the canon of expensiveness nor that of beauty alone can account for.

The process of readjustment of the accepted theory of life involves a degree of mental effort?a more or less protracted and laborious effort to find and to keep one's bearings under the altered circumstances. This process requires... some surplus of energy beyond that absorbed in the daily struggle for subsistence.

The success of a class or party presumes a strong element of clannishness, or loyalty to a chief, or adherence to a tenet; whereas the competitive individual can best achieve his ends if he combines the barbarian's energy, initiative, self-seeking and disingenuousness with the savage's lack of loyalty or clannishness.

Author Picture
First Name
Last Name
Veblen, fully Thorstein Bunde Veblen, born Torsten Bunde Veblen
Birth Date
Death Date

Norwegian-American Sociologist and Economist, Leader of the Institutional Economics Movement