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

Invested wealth in large holdings controls the country's industrial system, directly by ownership of the plant, as in the mechanical industries, or indirectly through the market, as in farming. So that the population of these civilized countries now falls into two main classes: those who own wealth invested in large holdings and who thereby control the conditions of life for the rest; and those who do not own wealth in sufficiently large holdings, and whose conditions of life are therefore controlled by these others. It is a division, not between those who have something and those who have nothing -- as many socialists would be inclined to describe it -- but between those who own wealth enough to make it count, and those who do not.

It is only within narrow limits, and then only in a Pickwickian sense, that honesty is the best policy.

Men tend to revert or to breed true, more or less closely, to one or another of certain types of human nature that have in their main features been fixed in approximate conformity to a situation in the past which differed from the situation of today.

Pecuniary employments, tending to conserve the predatory temperament, are the employments which have to do with ownership?the immediate function of the leisure class proper?and the subsidiary functions concerned with acquisition and accumulation.

So also it is plain that national pretensions in the field of foreign trade and investment, and all the diversified expedients for furthering and protecting the profitable enterprise of the vested interests in foreign parts, run consistently at cross-purposes with the keeping of the peace.

Special training in personal service costs time and effort... it argues that the servant who possesses it, neither is nor has been habitually engaged in any productive occupation. It is prima facie evidence of a vicarious leisure extending far back in the past.

The ceremonial differentiation of the dietary is best seen in the use of intoxicating beverages and narcotics. If these articles of consumption are costly, they are felt to be noble and honorific. Therefore the base classes, primarily the women, practice an enforced continence with respect to these stimulants, except in countries where they are obtainable at a very low cost. From archaic times down through all the length of the patriarchal regime it has been the office of the women to prepare and administer these luxuries...The same invidious distinction adds force to the current disapproval of any indulgence of this kind on the part of women, minors, and inferiors...The greater abstinence of women is in some part due to an imperative conventionality... strongest where the patriarchal tradition?the tradition that the woman is a chattel?has retained its hold in greatest vigor.

The dog has advantages in the way of uselessness as well as in special gifts of temperament...the dog is man's servant and that he has the gift of an unquestioning subservience and a slave's quickness in guessing his master's mood...the dog has some characteristics which are of a more equivocal aesthetic value. He is the filthiest of the domestic animals in his person and the nastiest in his habits. For this he makes up is a servile, fawning attitude towards his master, and a readiness to inflict damage and discomfort on all else...The dog is at the same time associated... with the chase?a meritorious employment and an expression of the honorable predatory impulse.

The first requisite of a good servant is that he should conspicuously know his place...Any departure from... canons of form is to be depreciated, not so much because it evinces a shortcoming in mechanical efficiency, or even that it shows an absence of the servile attitude and temperament, but because... it shows the absence of special training.

The invidious comparison can never become so favorable to the individual making it that he would not gladly rate himself still higher relatively to his competitors in the struggle for pecuniary reputability.

The ordinary expenditure incurred for this purpose is so considerable, in fact, that the "selling cost" will not infrequently be far and away the larger part of those costs that are to be covered by the price of advertised goods or advertised traffic. This necessary consumption of work and means with a view to increase sales and to create a prospective increase of profits is to be counted as net waste, of course; in the sense that it contributes nothing to the total output of serviceable goods, present or prospective. The net aggregate result is to lay equipment idle, hinder traffic, and induce credulous persons now and again to change their mind about what things they will buy.

The proximate tendency of the institution of a leisure class in shaping human character runs in the direction of spiritual survival and reversion. Its effect upon the temper of a community is of the nature of an arrested spiritual development.

The term "leisure", as here used, does not connote indolence or quiescence. What it connotes is non-productive consumption of time.

There are two main counts included in this modern -- eighteenth-century -- plan, which appear unremittingly to make for discomfort and dissension under the conditions offered by the New Order of things: -- National Ambition, and the Vested Rights of ownership. Neither of the two need be condemned as being intrinsically mischievous. Indeed, it may be true, as has often been argued, that both have served a good purpose in their due time and place; at least there is no need of arguing the contrary. Both belong in the settled order of civilized life; and both alike are countenanced by those principles of truth, equity and validity that go to make up the modern point of view. It is only that now, as things have been turning during the later one hundred years, both of these immemorially modern rights of man have come to yield a net return of hardship and ill-will for all those peoples who have bound up their fortunes with that kind of enterprise.

All these peoples that now hope to be nations have long been nationalities. A nation is an organization for collective offence and defense, in peace and war, -- essentially based on hate and fear of other nations; a nationality is a cultural group, bound together by home-bred affinities of language, tradition, use and wont, and commonly also by a supposed community race, -- essentially based on sympathies and sentiments of self-complacency within itself.

As fast as a person makes new acquisitions, and becomes accustomed to the resulting new standard of wealth, the new standard forthwith ceases to afford appreciably greater satisfaction than the earlier standard did. The tendency in any case is constantly to make the present pecuniary standard the point of departure for a fresh increase of wealth.

Besides servants... there is at least one other class of persons whose garb assimilates them to the class of servants and shows many of the features that go to make up the womanliness of woman's dress. This is the priestly class. Priestly vestments show, in accentuated form, all the features that have been shown to be evidence of a servile status and a vicarious life. Even more strikingly than the everyday habit of the priest, the vestments, properly so called, are ornate, grotesque, inconvenient, and, at least ostensibly, comfortless to the point of distress. The priest is at the same time expected to refrain from useful effort and, when before the public eye, to present an impassively disconsolate countenance, very much after the manner of a well-trained domestic servant.

Closely related to the requirement that the gentleman must consume freely and of the right kind of goods, there is the requirement that he must know how to consume them in a seemly manner. His life of leisure must be conducted in due form. Hence arise good manners... High-bred manners and ways of living are items of conformity to the norm of conspicuous leisure and conspicuous consumption.

Even as regards personal ornaments it is to be added that their chief purpose is to lend ‚clat to the person of their wearer (or owner) by comparison with other persons who are compelled to do without.

He knows, of course, that the profits of business go to the business men, the vested interests, and to no one else; but he is still beset with the picturesque hallucination that any unearned income which goes to those vested interests whose central office is in New Jersey is paid to himself in some underhand way, while the gains of those vested interests that are domiciled in Canada are obviously a grievous net loss to him. The tariff moves in a mysterious way, its wonders to perform.

In all innovations in dress... the requirement of conspicuous waste prevents the purposefulness of these innovations from becoming anything more than a somewhat transparent pretense.

In the last analysis the value of manners lies in the fact that they are the voucher of a life of leisure...the acquisition of some proficiency in decorum is incumbent on all who aspire to a modicum of pecuniary decency.

It appears that the canons of pecuniary reputability do... affect our notions of the attributes of divinity, as well as... of divine communion. It is felt that the divinity must be of a peculiarly serene and leisurely habit of life. And whenever his local habitation is pictured in poetic imagery... the devout word-painter, as a matter of course, brings out before his auditors' imagination a throne with a profusion of the insignia of opulence and power, and surrounded by a great number of servitors...the office of this corps of servants is a vicarious leisure, their time and efforts being in great measure taken up with an industrially unproductive rehearsal of the meritorious characteristics and exploits of the divinity; while the background of the presentation is filled with the shimmer of the precious metals and of the more expensive varieties of precious stones.

It is scarcely necessary to describe this modern system of principles that still continues to govern human intercourse among the civilized peoples, or to attempt an exposition of its constituent articles. It is all to be had in exemplary form, ably incorporated in such familiar documents as the American Declaration of Independence, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man, and the American Constitution; and it is all to be found set forth with all the circumstance of philosophical and juristic scholarship in the best work of such writers as John Locke. Montesquieu. Adam Smith, or Blackstone.

Men's hunting and fighting... are of a predatory nature; the warrior and the hunter alike reap where they have not strewn. Their aggressive assertion of force and sagacity... it is not to be accounted productive labor but rather an acquisition of substance by seizure. Such being the barbarian man's work, in its best development and widest divergence from women's work... the tradition gains consistency, the common sense of the community erects it into a canon of conduct.

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Veblen, fully Thorstein Bunde Veblen, born Torsten Bunde Veblen
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Norwegian-American Sociologist and Economist, Leader of the Institutional Economics Movement