The previous Unwelcome Ideas post introduced Thorstein Veblen’s basic thesis of conspicuous consumption. The next question is – can we apply his ideas to modern times when elite tastes are perhaps a little more discreet? The glaringly obvious answer is yes.
One example is enough to set this all too familiar ball rolling. Recently while driving along a motorway at my usual sedate 60mph, I was passed by a driver in a Toyota Prius doing at least 85mph. You’d think a Prius driver would tootle along at a fuel and planet-conserving 55mph wouldn’t you? Yet I don’t ever recall coming up behind a Prius tootling along the motorway at 55mph, let alone the optimum speed which would presumably be even lower.
So faux environmental virtues must be added to big houses, expensive cars, refined tastes in music, literature, food, holidays, interior decor and personal adornment. From social mores to upmarket brands to cosmetic dentistry, the list is endless because as Veblen pointed out, social status is closely linked to pointless activity and that's a very wide field indeed.
Modern life would have been grist to Veblen’s mill because in essence, nothing has changed. It’s all so well known and perhaps that’s the only mystery. Veblen was merely pointing out in a systematic way things we already know. And this counts as a minor mystery doesn’t it? Because although we know all this stuff, it makes no real difference to our ideas of social status and the way we behave. Yet these things are in no way hidden from us.