Veblen Goods and Conspicuous Consumption

13407322_10153650505666485_6418403388758799625_n

In 1899, an American economist named Thorstein Veblen wrote a book called “The Theory of the Leisure Class”. In it, he describes the phenomenon of Conspicuous Consumption, and explains how trying to earn social status through material goods can make for poor buying decisions. This idea became so prominent that modern economists now refer to luxury items as Veblen goods. Basically, Veblen goods are average items marketed at a high price point to prey on The Rich, and The Rich fall for it every damn time. Demand actually increases as the price increases. Examples include Hermes handbags, any Rolls Royce vehicle, and artwork by Christopher Wool. Seriously, have you seen that guy’s “art”? It makes me angry every time (so I guess he must be doing SOMETHING right).

Now that you know this, you can probably sell your Rolex and start ignoring Michelin stars. The entire luxury goods market is aimed at insecure people who have money, but little faith in their social status. They need to SHOW they have money. Think of it as a tax they pay to impress people. What really boggles my mind is there’s zero financial gain from having luxury goods. I suppose you could theoretically say driving a Maserati Quattroporte when you’re a real estate agent could help land higher-level sales, but by then, YOU’VE ALREADY SPENT $115,825. For the other 99.9% of us, expensive cars are bullshit when you can get from A to B in a decent $4,500 commuter car. You’ll rarely hit 100 MPH on city roads anyway, and if you do, enjoy your traffic tickets. I say it’s lose-lose. Had you invested your $115,825 at 35 and let it sit until 65 at 5%, you’d have HALF A MILLION. One shitty luxury decision can ruin your retirement.

So am I saying you should have ZERO luxury goods? No, not exactly. I’m just saying you should look at a product’s practicality before its brand name. Don’t spend $1,200 on a handbag that does the same job as a 0.1¢ plastic bag. Don’t buy a 1961 Cheval Blanc just because you saw it in a movie when you like Barefoot. Don’t spend $500 at a ritzy restaurant and walk away hungry. There’s spending on things that are worth it, and then there are Veblen goods. I actually smirk a bit when I see people showing off their expensive cars now. In many cases, I know they’re financing them, and I can’t help but picture them stuck in traffic behind a Smart car while cyclists blissfully pass them in the bike lane. Everyone these days seems to own a luxury car, but how many can escape 40 hours a week making someone else rich?

Once you pay that much money for something, you also start to lose leverage when you’re dissatisfied. I dined at a two-Michelin-star restaurant in Paris once, and dropped $600+ for the privilege. My fish was unevenly cooked, my sommelier was oddly passive-aggressive, and they deliberately seated me in a corner away from their more opulent clientele. I could’ve complained, but what’s the point? I’m sure their staff regarded me as a commoner anyway, looking to milk an upper class establishment for all they were worth. It’s a different kind of club up there, and it’s not worth trying to get in. I’m still not sure why I tried.

Finally, Veblen goods are particularly dangerous to the faux riche, and I willingly admit I fall into that category. At my current level of Debt, I shouldn’t be buying ANYTHING except basics, but here we are. I have an Apple computer, bottles of $400 Bordeaux in my cellar, and enough PlayStations to run an arcade. That’s why, right now, I pledge to spend only $100/month on material goods. I’ll roll that limit forward if I have any left over, but that means only blowing $600 on material goods between now and Christmas. Bug me and make sure I post updates. With some luck, maybe I can be Rich for real.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s