Conspicuous consumption

Conspicuous: Attracting notice or attention.
Consumption: The action of using up a resource.
The fusion of both words, conspicuous consumption, is a term coined by Thorstein Veblen in 1899 but it is easily applicable to modern society. It is an economic theory that does not shine optimism. Based on the meaning of the words separately Conspicuous: Attracting notice or attention.Consumption: The action of using up a resource. Put together, conspicuous consumption refers to buying expensive goods to display wealth rather than covering the real consumer needs.

This economic theory criticizes the industrialized societies where the individuals buy their items based on the status that would provide rather than the utility of them. This, in consequence, leads to a waste of time and resources with the sole purpose of emulating the pertinence of a given social class. If we look into it, we’ll see that recent economic catastrophes have been caused by people trying to be. In 2008 the market crashed because lots of people were over-leveraged to buy bigger houses while trying to keep up with the Joneses. People buy things because their neighbors or acquaintances bought something rather than the utility and profit they can extract from the purchase.

If we look at it critically, conspicuous consumption is the cause of the current health crises where most of American adults are obese. Humans only need a certain amount of food per day, if we overdo it regularly it can lead to health problems. Overeating can cause obesity at the start, but it can also lead to diabetes and coronary diseases. That simply because we are eating more than we should.

Overbuying food has also environmental implications. We live in a society that trows away more food than ever. With proper management of the resources, the world would be more balanced on caloric intake. Low-income countries would have enough to feed their inhabitants; thus giving equal opportunities to many people. But this goes further than our day to day activities. It is not about objects. It can refer to non-material elements. It is not cool anymore to go to the beach one week in summer, this vicious circle expands. Now people have to go regularly to different European capitals and during summer one should visit exotic sunny places. Chilling at home does not display enough wealth.

Leisure is also affected by conspicuous consumption. Conspicuous leisure is about taking part in leisure activities with the sole purpose of displaying status. The activities should be displayed in order to demonstrate idle time as a sign of wealth where the worker would have little time for non-productive endeavors whereas wealthy people would have plenty of time to pursue non-productive activities.

All of which leads to Veblen goods. Those are goods where their demand increases with price. Traditionally it is assumed by economists that demand decreases proportionally to the price increase (and the other way around). But Veblen goods have a complete opposite demand curve. When the price increases the demand increases as well, going against all common sense.

Do we still think that growth is the way to go?

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