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Term: Veblen, Thorstein 1857-1929

Definition: economist and social critic; Veblen was born in Cato Township, Manitowoc County, to immigrant Norwegian farmers, and grew up in rural Minnesota. Although he earned a B.A from Carleton College (1880) and a Ph.D. from Yale (1884), he was unable to obtain an academic position until 1892, when he began to teach political economy at the University of Chicago. A "brilliant, eccentric thinker and innovative teacher," Veblen stayed at Chicago until 1906, where he wrote his first and most famous book, The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899). Veblen was a critic of the ways that laissez-faire economics and big business shaped society; he coined the phrase "conspicuous consumption" to describe the desire of consumers to earn status by displaying what they could afford to buy. Veblen's "gruff manner and unconventional personal life" led the Univ. of Chicago to discharge him in 1906. He went on to teach at Stanford (where he was discharged again for personal reasons) and Missouri. In 1919, he helped found the New School for Social Research in New York. 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).  View a longer biography printed in the Milwaukee Journal March 22, 1935, at Wisconsin Local History and Biography Articles. The Wisconsin Historical Society has manuscripts related to this topic. See the catalog description of the Thorstein Veblen Papers for details.

[Source: Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition; UW-Madison American History 102 reference site (http://us.history.wisc.edu/hist102/); Milwaukee Journal, March 22, 1935.]
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