Norwegian-American Sociologist and Economist, Leader of the Institutional Economics Movement
Thorstein Veblen, fully Thorstein Bunde Veblen, born Torsten Bunde Veblen
Norwegian-American Sociologist and Economist, Leader of the Institutional Economics Movement
The... stage of quasi-peaceable industry is usually characterized by an established chattel slavery, herds of cattle, and a servile class of herdsmen and shepherds; industry has advanced so far that the community is no longer dependent for its livelihood on the chase or on any other form of activity that can fairly be classed as exploit. From this point on, the characteristic feature of leisure class life is a conspicuous exemption from all useful employment.
A trade-secret may also be profitable to the concern which has the use of it, and the special process which it covers may be especially productive; but the same article of technological knowledge would doubtless contribute more to the total productivity of industry if it were shared freely by the industrial community at large. Such technological knowledge is an agency of production, but it is the monopoly of it that is profitable to its possessor as a special source of gain. The like applies to patent-rights, of course. Whereas monopolies of the usual kind, which control any given line of industry by charter, conspiracy, or combination of ownership, derive their special gains from their ability to restrain trade, limit the output of goods or services, and so "maintain prices."
Any consumer who might, Diogenes-like, insist on the elimination of all honorific or wasteful elements from his consumption, would be unable to supply his most trivial wants in the modern market. Indeed, even if he resorted to supplying his wants directly by his own efforts... he could scarcely compass a supply of the necessaries of life for a day's consumption without instinctively and by oversight incorporating in his home-made product something of this honorific, quasi-decorative element of wasted labor.
At home in America for the transient time being, the war administration has under pressure of necessity somewhat loosened the strangle-hold of the vested interests on the country's industry; and in so doing it has shocked the safe and sane business men into a state of indignant trepidation and has at the same time doubled the country's industrial output.
By virtue of its high position as the avatar of good form, the wealthier class comes to exert a retarding influence upon social development far in excess of that which the simple numerical strength of the class would assign it.
Each class envies and emulates the class next above it in the social scale, while it rarely compares itself with those below or with those who are considerably in advance.
From this arises one of the singularities of the current situation in business and its control of industry; viz., that the total face value, or even the total market value of the vendible securities which cover any given block of industrial equipment and material resources, and which give title to its ownership, always and greatly exceeds the total market value of the equipment and resources to which the securities give title of ownership, and to which alone in the last resort they do give title. The margin by which the capitalized value of the going concern exceeds the value of its material properties is commonly quite wide. Only in the case of small and feeble corporations, or such concerns as are balancing along the edge of bankruptcy, does this margin of intangible values narrow down and tend to disappear. Any industrial business concern which does not enjoy such a margin of capitalized free earning-capacity has fallen short of ordinary business success and is possessed of no vested interest.
In a general way, the element of waste tends to predominate in articles of consumption, while the contrary is true of articles designed for productive use. Even in articles which appear... to serve for pure ostentation only, it is always possible to detect the presence of some, at least ostensible, useful purpose... even in special machinery and tools contrived for some particular industrial process, as well as in the rudest appliances of human industry, the traces of conspicuous waste, or at least of the habit of ostentation, usually become evident on a close scrutiny.
In point of natural endowment the pecuniary man compares with the delinquent in much the same way as the industrial man compares with the good-natured shiftless dependent. The ideal pecuniary man is like the ideal delinquent in his unscrupulous conversion of goods and persons to his own ends, and in a callous disregard of the feelings and wishes of others and of the remoter effects of his actions; but he is unlike him in possessing a keener sense of status, and in working more consistently and farsightedly to a remoter end.
Institutions are products of the past process, are adapted to past circumstances, and are therefore never in full accord with the requirements of the present.
It is not that these and their like are ready with "a satisfactory constructive program," such as the people of the uplift require to be shown before they will believe that things are due to change. It is something of the simpler and cruder sort, such as history is full of, to the effect that whenever and so far as the time-worn rules no longer fit the new material circumstances they presently fail to carry conviction as they once did. Such wear and tear of institutions is unavoidable where circumstances change; and it is through the altered personal equation of those elements of the population which are most directly exposed to the changing circumstances that the wear and tear of institutions may be expected to take effect. To these untidy creatures of the New Order common honesty appears to mean vaguely something else, perhaps something more exacting, than what was "nominated in the bond" at the time when the free bargain and self-help were written into the moral constitution of Christendom by the handicraft industry and the petty trade. And why should it not
Masterful aggression, and the correlative massiveness, together with a ruthlessly consistent sense of status, would still count among the most splendid traits of the class. These have remained in our traditions as the typical "aristocratic virtues." But with these were associated an increasing complement of the less obtrusive pecuniary virtues; such as providence, prudence, and chicanery. As time has gone on, and the modern peaceable stage of pecuniary culture has been approached, the last-named range of aptitudes and habits has gained in relative effectiveness for pecuniary ends, and they have counted for relatively more in the selective process under which admission is gained and place is held in the leisure class...What remains of the predatory barbarian traits is the tenacity of purpose or consistency of aim which distinguished the successful predatory barbarian from the peaceable savage whom he supplanted.
Our apparel is always in evidence and affords an indication of our pecuniary standing to all observers at the first glance.
Retrogression, reapproach to a standpoint to which the race has been long habituated in the past, is easier.
Social structure changes, develops, adapts itself to an altered situation, only through a change in the habits of thought of the several classes of the community, or in the last analysis, through... the individuals which make up the community.
The canon of beauty requires expression of the generic. The "novelty" due to the demands of conspicuous waste traverses this canon of beauty, in that itresults in making the physiognomy of our objects of taste a congeries of idiosyncrasies... under the selective surveillance of the canon of expensiveness.
The cultural stage which lies immediately back of the present in the life history of Western civilization is what has here been called the quasi-peaceable stage. At this quasi-peaceable stage the law of status is the dominant feature in the scheme of life. There is no need of pointing out how prone the men of today are to revert to the spiritual attitude of mastery and of personal subservience which characterizes that stage.
The fact that the usages, actions, and views of the well-to-do leisure class acquire the character of a prescriptive canon of conduct for the rest of society, gives added weight and reach to the conservative influence of that class. It makes it incumbent upon all reputable people to follow their lead.
The institution of leisure class is the outgrowth of an early discrimination between employments, according to which some employments are worthy and others unworthy. Under this ancient distinction the worthy employments are those which may be classed as exploit; unworthy are those necessary everyday employments into which no appreciable element of exploit enters.
The office of the leisure class in social evolution is to retard the movement and to conserve what is obsolescent. This proposition is by no means novel; it has long been one of the commonplaces of popular opinion.
The profession of the law does not imply large ownership; but since no taint of usefulness, for other than the 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 chicanery, 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.
The suppression of the monogamic family, or of the agnatic system of consanguinity, or of private property, or of the theistic faith, in any country of the Western civilization; or suppose the suppression of ancestor worship in China, or of the caste system in india, or of slavery in Africa, or the establishment of equality of the sexes in Mohammedan countries... The aversion to any such innovation amounts to a shrinking from an essentially alien scheme of life.
There are all degrees of this helplessness that characterizes the common lot. So much so that certain classes, professions, and occupations -- such as the clergy, the military, the courts, police, and legal profession -- are perhaps to be classed as belonging primarily with the vested interests, although they can scarcely be counted as vested interests in their own right, but rather as outlying and subsidiary vested interests whose tenure is conditioned on their serving the purposes of those principal and self-directing vested interests whose tenure rests immediately on large holdings of invested wealth.Read more at location 2158
All ritual has a notable tendency to reduce itself to a rehearsal of formulas.
Any established system of law and order will remain securely stable only on condition that it he kept in line or brought into line to conform with those canons of validity that have the vogue for the time being; and the vogue is a matter of habits of thought ingrained by everyday experience. And the moral is that any established system of law and custom is due to undergo a revision of its constituent principles so soon as a new order of economic life has had time materially to affect the community's habits of thought. But all the while the changeless native proclivities of the race will assert themselves in some measure in any eventual revision of the received institutional system; and always they will stand ready eventually to break the ordered scheme of things into a paralytic mass of confusion if it cannot be bent into some passable degree of congruity with the paramount native needs of life.