Thorstein Veblen

Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Wikipedia.

Veblen, Thorstein

(thôr`stīn vĕb`lən), 1857–1929, American economist and social critic, b. Cato Township, Wis. Of Norwegian parentage, he spent his first 17 years in Norwegian-American farm communities. After studying at Carleton College and at Johns Hopkins, Yale (where he received a Ph.D. in 1884), and Cornell universities, Veblen taught at Chicago, Stanford, and Missouri universities and at the New School for Social Research, New York City. Detached from the dominant American society by his cultural background and temperament, Veblen was able to dissect social and economic institutions and to analyze their psychological bases, thus laying the foundations for the school of institutional economics. His dry, involved, satiric style enabled Veblen to coin famous phrases such as "conspicuous consumption." In his criticism of the price system, his analysis of the business cycle, and his interpretation of the role of technical men in modern society, there are implications for social engineering. Veblen did not achieve popular acclaim in his time but has since exerted significant influence. His works include The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899), The Theory of Business Enterprise (1904), Imperial Germany and the Industrial Revolution (1915), The Engineers and the Price System (1921), and Absentee Ownership and Business Enterprise in Recent Times (1923). He also translated The Laxdoela Saga (1925) from the Icelandic. Essays in Our Changing Order was published in 1934. Anthologies of his writings have been edited with introductions by W. C. Mitchell (1936) and Max Lerner (1948).


See selected writings ed. by W. C. Mitchell (1936, repr. 1964) and M. Lerner (1950). See also biographies by J. Dorfman (1934, repr. 1966), J. A. Hobson (1936, repr. 1971), and D. F. Dowd (1964); studies by R. V. Teggart (1932, repr. 1966), S. Daugert (1950), D. F. Dowd, ed. (1958), and C. C. Qualey, ed. (1968).

Veblen, Thorstein


Born July 30, 1857, in Manitowok county, Wisconsin; died Aug. 3, 1929, near Menlo Park, California. American economist and sociologist. Professor of economics at Chicago, Stanford, and Missouri universities.

Veblen’s views are contradictory and combine petit-bourgeois utopianism with a critique of certain sides of capitalism. Under the influence of Marx, Veblen considered the basis of social life to be material production. However, having a simplistic understanding of the connection between technology and sociocultural institutions and undervaluing the importance of forms of property, he equated social production only with technology. According to Veblen, the traditions and views of people lag behind changes in the technology of production; the evolution of society is equated basically with the process of the mental adaptation of individuals to these changes.

Considering any society as a productive machine whose component parts are economic institutions, Veblen represented history as the result of a struggle between two basic classes: the businessmen, who are concerned with the sphere of circulation, and the industrialists, who organize material production. Veblen felt the first group to be reactionary. Business, according to Veblen, gives rise to private property, nationalism, and religious ignorance. In some of his works, Veblen proposed to transfer the leadership of the economy and of the entire society to the industrial-technical intelligentsia, to create a “general staff of engineers and technicians who, by exercising political power, could develop production in the interests of society. However, at the end of his life Veblen renounced many of these Utopian ideas, which later were used in technocratic theories. Veblen’s views, especially his theory of the leisure class, the idea of the lag of culture behind technology, and the criticism of certain aspects of American life, exerted an important influence on the development of American non-Marxist sociology.


The Theory of Business Enterprise. New York, 1904.
The Instinct of Workmanship and the State of the Industrial Arts. New York, 1918.
Essays in Our Changing Order. New York, 1934.
The Theory of the Leisure Class. New York, 1934.
The Place of Science in Modern Civilization and Other Essays … New York, 1961.
The Engineers and the Price System. New York, 1963.


Veblen, Thorstein (Bunde)

(1857–1929) economist, social critic; born in Cato, Wis. Educated at Carleton College, he took his Ph.D. in philosophy from Yale University in 1884. Having little use for neoclassical economics, he is best known for his sharp criticism of modern industrial civilization in such works as The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899), The Instinct of Workmanship (1914), Imperial Germany and the Industrial Revolution (1915), The Higher Learning in America (1918), and Absentee Ownership (1923). He argued in favor of economics as an evolutionary science, intending an inquiry into the genesis and growth of economic institutions. His writings drew on history, psychology, and anthropology, and he had a tendency to devise colorful phrases such as "conspicuous consumption," "pecuniary emulation," and "ostentatious display." He found it difficult to secure a permanent teaching job—his eccentric teaching style and unorthodox personal life led to his dismissal from both the University of Chicago and Stanford. His last work was practically indecipherable, and despite a small but loyal following, he died in relative obscurity in 1929, but his books and ideas have since continued to be widely cited.
References in periodicals archive ?
Hacia 1919, Thorstein Veblen se preguntAaAaAeA por quAaAaAeA@ los judAaAaAeA os, pese muchos y notorios obstAaAaAeA culos que deben superar, sobresale intelectual-mente en Europa.
In recent years a principal target of these elitist and puritanical attacks has been hip hop, a subculture dominated by African Americans born into poverty who celebrate what Thorstein Veblen labeled as "conspicuous consumption.
After all, albeit unintentionally, their volume is in essence a much-needed contemporary token of economic institutionalism a la Veblen, whom main-stream economists have long condemned to the status of embalmed "lone wolf", since they have been trained to keep reality at a safe distance (David Reisman, The Social Economics of Thorstein Veblen, Cheltenham: Elgar, 2012, p.
And Thorstein Veblen, in The Theory of Business Enterprise, in 1904, explained what the sound principle underlying it all was.
And life, Lewis also implies in Dodsworth and Babbitt, in the line of Thorstein Veblen and Ring Lardner, should be spent doing something more than just watching baseball as well.
Hoeveler describes Darwin's ideas and life and the perceptions of such as Louis Agassiz, Asa Gray, Charles Hodge, James McCosh, Henry Ward Beecher, John Bascom, William Garland Sumner, Lester Frank Ward, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Eliza Burt Gamble, Thorstein Veblen, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.
The pervasive influence of what Thorstein Veblen presciently called "conspicuous consumption" has sparked resentment and reaction against US culture from societies that struggle to reconcile images of US wealth with persistent poverty among their own populations.
If the mysterious critic is in fact Thorstein Veblen, and the actual source his 1899 classic The Theory of the Leisure Class, his comment on the real-estate situation in the US might need to be re-historicized before it can be applied to Grand Canyon.
However, this work will leave one also to ask of the author, where do John Locke and Thomas Jefferson, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Margaret Fuller, Thorstein Veblen and John Dewey, Walter Lippmann and Russell Kirk, and W.