Conspicuous consumption

Conspicuous consumption is a term used to describe the lavish spending on goods and services acquired mainly for the purpose of displaying income or wealth. In the mind of a conspicuous consumer, such display serves as a means of attaining or maintaining social status. A very similar but more colloquial term is "keeping up with the Joneses".

Invidious consumption, a more specialized term, refers to consumption deliberately intended to cause envy.

History and evolution of the term

The term conspicuous consumption was introduced by economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen in his 1899 book The Theory of the Leisure Class.[1] Veblen used the term to depict the behavioral characteristic of the nouveau riche, a class emerging in the 19th century as a result of the accumulation of wealth during the Second Industrial Revolution. In this context, the application of the term should be narrowed to the elements of the upper class who use their enormous wealth to manifest social power, whether real or perceived.

With significant improvement of living standards and the emergence of the middle class in the 20th century, the term conspicuous consumption is now broadly applied to individuals and households with expendable incomes whose consumption patterns are prompted by the utility of goods to show their status rather than any intrinsic utility of such goods. In the 1920s, economists such as Paul Nystrom theorized that lifestyle changes brought on by the industrial age were inducing a "philosophy of futility" in the masses, which would increase fashionable consumption. Thus, the concept of conspicuous consumption has been discussed in the context of addictive or narcissistic behaviors induced by consumerism, the desire for immediate gratification, and hedonic expectations.

Read the full wiki article here. Be sure to check out the article links at the bottom of the page, too.

Tags: buying, capitalism, conspicuous consumption, consumerism, ego, greed, wealth

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Replies to This Discussion

Also see Affluenza.
I would like to get a better understanding of the point you are making with this post.

I don't fully align with the preachy tone of this article. Reminds me of Csikszentmihalyi's articles.

Also, did you hear about the UK towns where police can bust you for too much bling?
Just to introduce the idea of conspicuous consumption -- maybe to make us more aware of what we, and others, are doing. I didn't think the tone of the entry was preachy at all.

Thanks for the link to the Csikszentmihalyi article. I'll read it when I can, and the other one as well.
But the point is the same as the book we discussed, by Geoffrey Miller. His argument is that people are signalling their status. Maybe that's true, maybe it isn't.
Why should we feel bad about buying bling or showing off?
Well, I'll answer your question with another question. Why should we feel GOOD about buying bling or showing off? I mean, is a person's worth/interest/value really determined by what they can or cannot buy?

In our society, I think we spend less time trying to be decent persons who keep our word, act with dignity, stay involved in our community, and take responsibility for our actions, etc., and too much time trying shopping, going place "to be seen", trying to impress others, fixating on celebrity gossip, etc, etc, etc. Don't you think?

Personally, I'm tired of being judged by the car I drive or the labels I wear. They are inanimate objects, not a mark of my value as a person.

That book looks interesting, but I've not read it so I can't really comment on it -- on his take on the topic.
The point is we are always trying to impress someone (our bosses, potential mates), or trying to get into some 'in' group-- it could be a group of people who wear Nikes, or it could be MENSA. The point is humans are social beings.
I don't deny that humans are social beings, but I want someone to like me or care about me for who I am, for what is important to me, for what I have accomplished, for my sense of empathy, for my ability to love, for so much more than where I shop. Isnt' that okay?

Anyone can go to the store and by XYZ brand, but not everyone feels empathy, volutneers in their community, or bothers to vote. Shouldn't that count for something?
I am not saying that you should not judged on any non-material qualities that you have. Everything you list should count. But my point is that, if someone wanted something, for whatever reason, they should not be judged for it.

Surely you know people who are really great human beings, but also like to live the consumer life style. We are not ascetics!
...they should not be judged for it.

I don't think that it is really about standing around judging people for their actions or desires. That's not what I am advocating. I can relate, believe me. But I think we have come to accept that our default values center around appearance and not substance. We value only the most supeficial, transitory, and materialistic things in life, and I think that has been to our cultural disadvantage.

Additonally, we rarely stop to consider how things are made, and true cost of our consumption in relation to economic, environmental, and social justice. All that matters is the immediate consumption and display of wealth. We define ourselves as consumers at the expense of other values, and I think that leaves us inherently unhappy because those things never satisfy our deeper, more human needs.
Over the next couple of decades the greatest growth in consumerism is going to be in the developing countries. Not surprising. We need a certain amount of wealth and security before we even start to think beyond, in terms of non-material values. Do you think people in India are worrying about the environment? Or gay marriage?
...the greatest growth in consumerism is going to be in the developing countries.

True, the West has wanted to export its lifestyle for years, and it is finally succeeding. But is this just imperialism under another name? Take for example Monsanto, that want's to absolutely control seeds and grains.

Do you think people in India are worrying about the environment? Or gay marriage?

I'm not sure what your intention is in asking me this? I mean, what point are you trying to make? I think a fair number of Indians do think about the environment, and organic gardening is really renewing itself there. I doubt many of them think about gay marriage, considering their general attitudes towards homosexuality, and sexuality in general (being rather opposed to openness about it).
I don't know about the evidence that 'conspicuous consumption' is related to a general disregard for other important issues, such as human rights or the environment. According to my argument, wealth leads to both 'conspicuous consumption' and the opportunity (time, education) to care about these other things. So it might be an interesting study to do if it has not been done, and to see how these constructs can be measured.

I mention the environment and gay marriage only because it has recently come up in the media and in other discussions I have had here and elsewhere.


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