Thorstein Veblen
Born - 1857
Died - 1929

Thorstein Veblen was an economist and social critic. His criticized the accepted economic theory of his day and performed analysis of economic and social change. Both of these led to his reputation as a satirist and a critic of capitalist society.

His major belief was that the economic theory of his day was built upon faulty assumptions about the nature of people and society. He argued that economics would not be a modern science until it adopted an "evolutionary" viewpoint. His theory was that it needed to explain past and ongoing changes in customary patterns of economic and social interaction. Some of his other theories focused on the role of technology in shaping a society's value system. This in turn, would influence all other aspects of social organization. Further to that, he argued that social change occurred as the technological innovations that were originally intended to further ends with one value system led to the formation of an alternative value system. In many respects, Veblen's idea's were consistent with Karl Marx.

His most famous work, The Theory of the Leisure Class, presented an analysis of the upper class and their behaviors. It portrayed the life of the well bred individual as a quest for status in a society in which status was based on wealth. It was in this work that Veblen coined the phrase " conspicuous consumption", used to describe spending undertaken mainly to demonstrate for the others, the spender's ability to pay.

One of his general themes was that the system of private property was no longer compatible with the technological basis of modern industry. He insisted that a social upheavel was imminent, as those in industrial occupations were coming to question the social value of business activity and the system of private property upon which it was based.

Most of his life was spent in academics, however he never achieved the full rank of professor. This was mainly due to his unwillingness to conduct his personal life in accordance with those in his field. His disdain for authority led to his dismissal from more than one university.

The influence of his ideas peaked after his death. The Great Depression and the rise of fascism in Europe seemed to bear out his predictions regarding the future of capitalism. Many figures in the New Deal counted themselves as followers of Veblen. Some aspects of his view have entered popular culture, including the characterization of the pecuniary culture and his unflattering portayal of business employments.

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