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  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: May 2013

16 - Capitalising Expectations: Veblen on Consumption, Crises and the Utility of Waste

from Part Four - Veblen's Economics


I see enormous conglomerates replace the individual capitalists. I see the stock markets fall prey to the same curse that now claims the casinos.

Friedrich Nietzsche

The doctrines which Adam Smith maintained with so much ability, never took so deep hold in this country as in England, and they have been more strongly opposed.

John Rae

Few authors are so perennially in the process of being rediscovered as Thorstein Veblen. Most recently, his authority has been summoned to combat the climate crisis, to uncover the meaning of life generally and what it means to be American particularly, and by those seeking to make sense of financial scandals such as those of Enron, Worldcom and Parmalat, not to mention the current global economic turmoil. His theories regarding the moral and material costs of conspicuous consumption are today echoed for wider audiences in works such as Alain de Botton's Status Anxiety and Oliver James's Affluenza, and the phrase ‘Gilded Age’ again enjoys cultural and analytical currency. This chapter contributes to this Veblen Renaissance, but neither by dwelling on the structural and cultural similarities between the crises of his time and ours, nor by using his writings to shed light on the technical origins of modern financial misdemeanours.

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