Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Conspicuous Consumption vs. Rediculous Consumption

Economist Thorstein Veblen (1857 - 1929) wrote a book titled "The Theory of the Leisure Class". In this learned tome he posited the idea that the leisure class could be identified by "conspicuous consumption". For some strange reason Mr. Veblen was a big deal as an economist in his day based on this book.

To take his book and cut it down to a few sentences, he said that the leisure class were different from us. Where we had a rental flat (common in those days), they had huge homes. While we walked or took trams, they had carriages with teams of matched horses. While we wore work clothes, they wore bespoke suits and the ladies changed their gowns five or six times a day. While we used our non-working hours maintaining whatever life style we could achieve, they had servants. But you get the idea.

It surprises me that this was such a show stopper in  the glory days when Newport, RI was home to the Astors and Vanderbilts and Rockefellers et al. It was the location of the Vanderbilt's seventy room cottage called the "Breakers". It was conspicuous consumption because you couldn't miss it. Really, a book to tell folks what was blazingly obvious to even the most casual observer.

Today, while we still have conspicuous consumption, we also have a new phenomenon. I call it the theory of ridiculous consumption. And I promise that I won't write a book about it. This amazing theory came to me fully formed as I watched the news two nights ago. I saw a huge line of twenty-somethings standing in this long line. They expected to be in this line all night. It wasn't to get into the hottest new club. It wasn't to see the Lady Gaga. It wasn't even to get World Series tickets. (That one I might understand.) It was to buy a cell phone. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, to be able to be the first of your crowd to have the I-phone whatever.

Look, I am no Luddite. But my cell phone is so old it is made out of wood (just kidding). But it is at least five years old. It works fine. I can make calls. I can text. I can take pictures or video. But if you are out there in the economic conditions of today and buying each new version of your favorite time waster, that is ridiculous consumption.

Moving on, I hear that you can now purchase sneakers for over  two hundred dollars a pair. My guess is that they are no longer called sneakers. But if you are a mom or dad and you are buying your little monster shoes that cost over fifty or sixty dollars a pair, look stupid, and make your child a target of every bully that doesn't have those slick new shoes, but your child's will do just fine for him, then you are well into ridiculous consumption.

There are so many more examples; women's shoes with red soles that sell for over two thousand dollars a pair, twelve thousand dollar watches that keep no better time than a fifty dollar watch that "takes a likkin but keeps on tickin".

It was announced on the news today that Apple sold five million of the new I-phone 5 over the weekend. It looks like a lot of those twenty-somthings were successful. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, that is rediculous consumption.

I needed a break from politics. I thought you might too. So here's hoping that I gave you a change of pace, entertained, and informed all at the same time.

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