Edited by Philip Arestis and Malcolm Sawyer
EBLEN (1857–1929) Rick Tilman Thorstein Veblen was born in 1857 into a Norwegian-American family in Wisconsin. His academic training was in the ﬁeld of philosophy but, after completion of his doctorate at Yale in 1884, a seven-year period of unemployment due to ill-health and inability to obtain an academic post followed before he turned to the study of economics. The seminal inﬂuences on Veblen’s dissenting economics were Darwinism, particularly the work of Darwin himself, and American socialism, especially the ideas of the Utopian novelist Edward Bellamy. During the next 30 years he held academic posts at Chicago, Stanford, Missouri and the New School for Social Research, during which time he became the most inﬂuential and best-known dissenting economist in the US. Veblen’s heterodoxy was widely recognized by professional economists and sociologists after the publication in 1899 of his most famous book, The Theory of the Leisure Class, in which he developed his theory of status emulation. In this satirical study of the leisure class and the underlying social strata which emulate it, he argued that conspicuous consumption, conspicuous waste and ostentatious avoidance of useful work were practices by which social status was enhanced. In short, Veblen contended that individual utility functions could not be understood except in relation to the utility functions of others because individuals were emulating others in order to strengthen their own sense of self-worth by commanding more social esteem. The assumptions of atomistic individualism and consumer-sovereignty deemed valid by microeconomists were thus shown...
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