Image of Thorstein Veblen


Lifetime: 1857 - 1929 Passed: ≈ 94 years ago


American Economist, Sociologist


United States

Thorstein Veblen

Thorstein Bunde Veblen was an American economist and sociologist who, during his lifetime, emerged as a well-known critic of capitalism.

In his best-known book, The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899), Veblen coined the concepts of conspicuous consumption and conspicuous leisure. Historians of economics regard Veblen as the founding father of the institutional economics school. Contemporary economists still theorize Veblen's distinction between "institutions" and "technology", known as the Veblenian dichotomy.

As a leading intellectual of the Progressive Era in the US, Veblen attacked production for profit. His emphasis on conspicuous consumption greatly influenced economists who engaged in non-Marxist critiques of fascism, capitalism, and of technological determinism.

Historiographical debates continue over his distaste, expressed in commissioned 1913 writings on cultural and social anthropology, for suppositional antediluvian racial typologies such as "dolicho-blond" and "brachycephalic brunet." Historians argue that Veblen preferred melting pot ideas as well as his own approach to monoculturalism and cultural evolution in cultural anthropology, five years after the production of Israel Zangwill's eponymous play. Many, if not most, of these studies, as well as scholarly appraisals of his 1915-19 articles on Japanese industrial expansion and the politics of the "Jews," maintain strict distinctions between Veblen's renunciation of "invidious" scientific racism and Veblen's eurocentric assumptions, if any. There are also differential assessments of the extent to which Mendelian concepts shaped both his praise of cultural anthropology and critique of social anthropology, as well as his contrasts between Mendelian and Darwinian ideas. This research should not be conflated with the historiography of globalism and globalization, especially given his critical models for Veblen goods, eurocentric or otherwise. Veblen had a similarly vexed relationship with Marxian international relations and vacillated on subscribing to any one variant of socialism in (and did not address the ethno-racial contours of) the Second International and Socialist Party of America.

Books by Thorstein Veblen

The Theory of the Leisure Class Cover image

The Theory of the Leisure Class

Sociology Economics

The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions (1899) is a book by Thorstein Veblen about how the possession or pursuit of wealth affects human behavior. More specifically, it is a treatise on economics as well as a detailed, soci...