CONSPICUOUS CONSUMPTION: THORSTEIN VEBLEN IN THE 21ST CENTURY
by Henry H. Goldman, Remnant Church Historian
“…and…in private…expenditure, carry into active exercise the principle of sacrifice and repression of unnecessary wants…” (D & C 130:7d, April 14, 1913)
Recently, The Kansas City Star published a lengthy article about a local and popular radio host who also writes for the Kansas City Call. The Call is a weekly newspaper serving the African-American community. The gentleman is a very respected orator, a panelist on the regional public television station, and a student of jazz. He was interviewed by the Star‘s feature Editor, Ms. Cindy Hoedel. Ms. Hoedel asked his opinion on a variety of topics, both local and national, one of which touched on his mode of dress. Ms. Hoedel said,”… you always dress like you are ready to take the city by storm. Why do you like dressing up?” In fact, her article was entitled, “Advocacy, Activism and 300 Good Suits.”
He replied, “There’s nothing like a good suit. It looks good, it feels good. When you wear nice clothes, people will react to you more positively. Sometimes we have dressed-down Sundays at church, but I’ll still put on a suit and tie.”
“How many suits do you own?” asked the interviewer. “I’ve got about 300 suits and 400 ties. I have a lot of them [suits] made. I get to go out of town once a year to the Annual Legislative Convention of the Congressional Black Caucus in Washington, D. C. There’s a guy from Cleveland who makes suits [who] is always there. He’s always happy to see me because he knows [that] I’m going to buy five or ten suits.”
It seems to me that this gentleman is a living model of what Thorstein Veblen called, in the late nineteenth century, conspicuous consumption, or what we might call unnecessary wants. Veblen wrote, “One porton of the [leisure] class, chiefly those persons whose occupation is vicarious leisure, come to undertake a new subsidiary range of duities – the vicarious consumption of goods. The most obvious form in which this consumption occurs is wearing of liveries and the occupation of spacious servant quarters.”
I also have a large number of suits: three, none of which were made-to-order and all are more than three years’ old and purchased at a discount store. I thought that I had reached my place in life and was now a member of the “leisure class.” But, I have one one percent of the number of suits that the interviewee owns, and, less than that percentage of neck ties.
Perhaps we should give that gentleman a copy of the Doctrine and Covenants with Section 130:7d, clearly marked.
1. Thorstein Veblen. The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions. New York: Modern Library Edition, 1934, pp. 68-101.