Monday, December 13, 2004

Conspicuous Reading

The Sunday Boston Globe raises the name of a dead theorist from the past, Thorstein Veblen, who coined the much-bandied term "conspicuous consumption" back in 1899. A century on, his views of visible, and "wasteful," materialism among wealthy Americans still rings true (think Martha Stewart), but his disdain for fellow economists is just as endearing:

Where the economists of his day deployed charts and graphs, Veblen turned to anthropology and the study of Icelandic clans and Polynesian islanders to expose the atavistic, irrational essence of capitalism -- a system, Veblen concluded, driven by the extravagant wastefulness of the rich and the rapacious habits of "pecuniary experts."

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