T. Veblen's approach

The focus of attention of another scientist, T. Veblen (1857-1929), was a criticism of the limitations of the economic approach to consumption. Economists, he wrote, have put forward the false thesis that consumption is the ultimate goal of production, but have paid little or no attention to how consumers actually behave or what impact the very goods that force them to consume can have on them. The fundamental flaw of economic theory is the refusal to consider human actions as one’s own subject, that is, something obviously more complex than the notorious normal equations of supply and demand.

T. Veblen formulated the thesis that economic science should become a science of human behavior in their relation to material means of subsistence. T. Veblen made the consumer behavior of social groups the sphere of his research. The specificity of his approach to this type of behavior lies in the broad consideration of psychological and cultural factors.

T. Veblen discovered that economics was reduced to the evaluation of goods, although the appraiser himself was ignored: the theory became “the monetary interaction of the facts to be evaluated.” Since monetary interest was recognized as equivalent to economic interest, the human person disappeared from the sphere of economic analysis. Concentrating on monetary issues, T. Veblen noted, economic science, in fact, left out of its field the problems associated with the process of machine production, namely, the latter most affects a person in society. Utility theory ignored elements of prestige and social standing, and the role of intangible goods in exchange rendered useless the idea of specific productivity. While productivity clearly has, according to T. Veblen, a material basis, classical theory interpreted it from a market, monetary point of view.

Further, T. Veblen noted, previous economists dealt with outdated concepts regarding the human psyche, since they insisted on the predominance of hedonistic motives. Man, wrote T. Veblen, is controlled by instincts, inclinations and habits. In essence, habit defines “… human activity in any field is in much the same way as if these elements of habit were of the nature of an innate need” (Veblen T. Theory of the Idle Class. M., 1984. pp. 122 – 123).

Within the framework of the sociological approach of T. Veblen, the regulators of human actions (consumer behavior) are instincts, inclinations and habits that directly follow from the consumer way of life. And the evolution of social institutions and human nature occurs as a natural selection of the most adapted way of thinking and type of behavior. The main regulator in the formation of certain types of consumer behavior, the social mechanisms of their formation are customs, “social habits”, style and lifestyle formed by a certain stage of historical development. The hidden springs by which it is possible to form a particular type of consumer behavior are the actions of traditions, customs, “social habits” on one or another type of consumer behavior in T. Veblen.

The main social institutions, according to T. Veblen, are economic interest, economic thinking, a certain way of thinking, which is formed within the framework of a particular stage of historical development. It is he who determines the framework and nature of the consumer behavior of individuals (“demonstrative” and “fake”) as a direct expression of the consumer way of life. The main factor in the change of social institutions is socio-economic and technical-technological changes, because the way of thinking of people is determined by the image of their activity and, more generally, by the image of their vital activity. Technical and technological innovations, embodied in certain fashionable household items, goods and services, determine the lifestyle of certain groups of the population. Management, in the concept of T. Veblen, lends itself to the formation of motivation for demonstrative consumption, the desire to stay at the level of generally accepted requirements of decency regarding the quality and quantity of goods consumed.

The way of thinking, brought up by the availability of elite things (luxury goods, products, goods, services), forms a certain type of consumer behavior (“demonstrative consumption”, demonstrative wastefulness, the pursuit of the quality of goods, etc.). In turn, the principle of demonstrative waste directs the formation of a way of thinking about what is moral and honorable in consumer goods and lifestyle. At the same time, this principle intersects with other norms of behavior and can have a direct or indirect effect on a sense of duty, a sense of beauty, an idea of usefulness, of “pious and ritual appropriateness”, etc.

The essence of the contradiction in the development of consumption processes is that the natural nature of man is not characterized by hypertrophied needs, their focus on demonstrative and fake waste. However, he is motivated to such activities by the established lifestyle of certain social groups, the rules of decency, prestige, status, which do not allow him to live and spend below a certain level accepted in society. And the more urgently the norms of society dictate the quality and quantity of consumption, the faster a person overcomes the level of his natural needs and makes the style and way of life imposed on him “natural”. It is obvious that T. Veblen discovered the main springs of the functioning and development of consumer society in the context of the capitalist mode of production.