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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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News Mon Jul 06 2009

Veblen & the Modern World

Dan Gross of the New York Times takes former University of Chicago professor Thorstein Veblen to task for his study of the American elite in the classic The Theory of the Leisure Class. Though the book was published in 1899, Gross applies Veblen's theories to our current economy and finds "while Veblen frequently reads as still 100 percent right on the foibles of the rich, when it comes to an actual theory of the contemporary leisure class, he now comes off as about 90 percent wrong." Gross finds that Veblen's assessment of the leisure class as needing to spend on others, in the form of expensive presents, entertainment, private education, etc., after they've spent all they can on themselves and their mimicry of European nobility to still ring true, however, whereas Veblen defined leisure as the "nonproductive consumption of time" and, therefore, wasteful, Gross points out that today, many members of this upper class continue work though they need not, that "to be at leisure, to be idle, is to be irrelevant." The fact that Veblen's theories still apply at all is interesting to learn and Gross does a fair job of explicating where Veblen succeeds and fails in modern times.

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