We Have Entered The Twilight Of The Leisure Class

[This post is published with permission from the personal blog of SEC Senior Policy Advisor Rick Bookstaber.]

Conspicuous leisure, conspicuous waste, conspicuous consumption. Veblen coins these terms in Theory of the Leisure Class to describe the strategies the noble and priestly classes employ to assert their status. Veblen observes that a life of leisure is the readiest evidence of the superior class, while anything having to do with the work-a-day world of earning a living is the occupation of the inferior class.

This argument does not ring true for today’s society. If someone gave you the advice, “If you want to show that you are better than everyone else, then hang around obviously doing nothing productive, and even better, waste resources,” you would think they were utterly pathetic. And the fact that it doesn’t ring true means we are different from many societies that have passed before us. We are seeing the twilight of conspicuous leisure, and of conspicuous waste and conspicuous consumption as well.

For the first two this is almost immediately evident. Leisure, conspicuous or not, is no longer viewed with envy.  Late-night infomercials might depict a life on a yacht free from work and worry as the ideal end result of the various get-rich-quick schemes, but the wealthy in society no longer are a class at leisure. The “one-percenters” work for a living, and the extremely wealthy who do not work for a living instead work for philanthropy. (So maybe we can add conspicuous philanthropy to the list, though the wealthy could then fairly complain that they can’t win no matter what they do).

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Categories: Economics, Society

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