The Essential Writings of Thorstein Veblen

The Essential Writings of Thorstein Veblen

The Essential Writings of Thorstein Veblen

The Essential Writings of Thorstein Veblen


The 38 selections in the volume include complete texts of all of Veblen's major articles and book reviews from 1882 to 1914, plus key chapters from his books The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899), The Theory of Business Enterprise (1904) and The Instinct of Workmanship (1914). These writings present a wide range of Veblen's most significant contributions, especially with respect to the philosophical and psychological foundations of economics, sociology, and other social sciences.a

A thorougly comprehensive volume, this is the only collection to present Veblen's writings in chronological order, so that their development can be correctly understood. The volume is edited by a leading sociologist and a prominent economist, who provide extensive introductory essays which include item-by-item commentaries that place each selection in its intellectual-historical context and in relation to subsequent developments in economics. It makes for a valuable source of reference both for students and researchers alike.



In the canon of American economists and social thinkers, Thorstein Veblen has long occupied a position that is both commanding and controversial as a result of a series of writings that he authored in the closing years of the nineteenth century and the opening years of the twentieth century.

This volume contains the principal items from this oeuvre and presents them chronologically in four parts, with accompanying editorial essays that introduce each of the 38 selections. The following two-part essay offers a short introduction to Veblen’s biography and to the general theoretical premises of his work as a whole.

1. Veblen’s life and times

Thorstein Veblen was born in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, on July 30, 1857 and died in Palo Alto, California, on August 3, 1929. The years of his life coincided with momentous events and changes in American society. Veblen’s seven decades spanned seventeen US presidencies (from James Buchanan to Herbert Hoover), and witnessed three presidential assassinations (Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley), three wars in which Americans fought (the Civil War, the Spanish–American War, and the First World War), and three major waves of European immigration (before the imposition of strict immigration quotas in the 1920s). The same period saw the abolition of slavery, the extension of voting rights to African American men and eventually to women, and the enactment of federal civil service reform.

No less significant for the astute analyst of modern economic life that Veblen was, his era also marked America’s dramatic transformation from a rural,

1 The fullest available biography of Veblen is Dorfman (1934), which scholars of previous generations regarded as the definitive work on its subject. More recently, the writings of Bartley and Bartley (1999a, 2000), Edgell (2001), and other researchers have exposed Dorfman’s interpretive biases as well as the numerous factual errors (of both omission and commission) in his account. While no modern work yet supercedes Dorfman’s biography in scope, in this section we rely principally on recent studies that deal with more limited aspects of Veblen’s life.

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