The Theory of the Leisure Class

Mon 01-22-2001. Thorstein Veblen, Conspicuous Consumption, Modern Library New York, foreword copyright 1934.

He gets down to the minor detail of how you decide if something is “wasteful” or not at page 99, near the end of chapter 4:

“... whether it serves directly to enhance human life on the whole — whether it furthers the life process taken impersonally.... Not whether, under the existing circumstances of individual habit and social custom, a given expenditure conduces to the particular consumer’s gratification or peace of mind; but whether, aside from acquired tastes and from the canons of usage and conventional decency, its result is a net gain in comfort or in the fullness of life.”

Of course the “particular consumer” couldn’t possibly know whether something was useful, “good”, “wasteful” whatever; no no Vorsten Veblen — or Karl Marx, Hillary Clinton, any decent God-hating progressive liberal or communist — should be able to make the determination in a trice. But not of course the consumer itself, the poor misguided ignorant little lamb.

I think I understand now.