The new status symbol: it’s not what you spend – it’s how hard you work

24. April 2017

Date: 24-04-2017
Source: The Guardian

The rich used to show how much they could spend on things they didn’t need. Today, a public display of productivity is the new symbol of class power

Apple CEO Tim Cook says he starts each day at 3.45am, while Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer had talked about her 130-hour workweek.

Almost 120 years ago, during the first Gilded Age, sociologist Thorstein Veblen coined the term “conspicuous consumption”. He used it to refer to rich people flaunting their wealth through wasteful spending. Why buy a thousand-dollar suit when a hundred-dollar one serves the same function? The answer, Veblen said, was power. The rich asserted their dominance by showing how much money they could burn on things they didn’t need.

While radical at the time, Veblen’s observation seems obvious now. In the intervening decades, conspicuous consumption has become deeply embedded in the texture of American capitalism. Our new Gilded Age is even more Veblenian than the last. Today’s captains of industry publicize their social position with private islands and superyachts while the president of the United States covers nearly everything he owns in gold. Read the rest of this entry »