Great Economists Since Petty and Boisguilbert
Edited by Gilbert Faccarello and Heinz D. Kurz
Chapter 53: Thorstein Bunde Veblen (1857–1929)
Thorstein Bunde Veblen was born in Cato, Wisconsin, 30 July 1857 to Thomas and Kary Veblen, Norwegian immigrants. He grew up in a Lutheran, mainly rural agricultural community, where waste and excess were condemned. Although his mother tongue was Norwegian, he quickly learned English and, later on, five other languages. From these early years, he learned values that would remain crucial for his entire life and work: the family and social solidarity and the devotion to handicraft – both values as sources of growth. Formative Years In 1874, together with his brother Andrew, he enrolled in a program at Carleton College Academy of Northfield for careers in Pastoral Ministry. The focus of the college on religious matters provided Thorstein with a narrow and isolated set of studies, which he broadened by reading the works of David Hume, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, John Stuart Mill and Herbert Spencer. However, it was following the courses of John Bates Clark that he developed an interest for economics (see Forges Davanzati 2006). His relationships with the other students and professors were difficult. This was also due, in part, to his complex and difficult personality. In 1880, one year ahead of time, he successfully graduated with a BA, earning high marks. His dissertation consisted in a critique of Mill in the wake of the philosophical thinking of Hamilton. In 1881, Thorstein enrolled at Johns Hopkins University, along with his brother. Here, he chose philosophy. Among his educators were the historian Henry Brooks Adams, the mathematician and...
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