Veblen, Thorstein

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Veblen, Thorstein

Thorstein Veblen (thôr´stīn vĕb´lən), 1857–1929, American economist and social critic, b. Cato Township, Wis. Of Norwegian parentage, he spent his first 17 years in Norwegian-American farm communities. After studying at Carleton College and at Johns Hopkins, Yale (where he received a Ph.D. in 1884), and Cornell universities, Veblen taught at Chicago, Stanford, and Missouri universities and at the New School for Social Research, New York City. Detached from the dominant American society by his cultural background and temperament, Veblen was able to dissect social and economic institutions and to analyze their psychological bases, thus laying the foundations for the school of institutional economics. His dry, involved, satiric style enabled Veblen to coin famous phrases such as "conspicuous consumption." In his criticism of the price system, his analysis of the business cycle, and his interpretation of the role of technical men in modern society, there are implications for social engineering. Veblen did not achieve popular acclaim in his time but has since exerted significant influence. His works include The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899), The Theory of Business Enterprise (1904), Imperial Germany and the Industrial Revolution (1915), The Engineers and the Price System (1921), and Absentee Ownership and Business Enterprise in Recent Times (1923). He also translated The Laxdoela Saga (1925) from the Icelandic. Essays in Our Changing Order was published in 1934. Anthologies of his writings have been edited with introductions by W. C. Mitchell (1936) and Max Lerner (1948).

See selected writings ed. by W. C. Mitchell (1936, repr. 1964) and M. Lerner (1950). See also biographies by J. Dorfman (1934, repr. 1966), J. A. Hobson (1936, repr. 1971), and D. F. Dowd (1964); studies by R. V. Teggart (1932, repr. 1966), S. Daugert (1950), D. F. Dowd, ed. (1958), and C. C. Qualey, ed. (1968).

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