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Historical Essay

Veblen, Thorstein 1857-1929

Author, Economist and Social Critic

Thorstein Veblen | Wisconsin Historical Society
Dictionary of Wisconsin History.
b. Cato Township, Manitowoc County, 1857
d. Sand Hill, August, 1929

Thorstein Veblen was an economist and social critic. Veblen was born to immigrant Norwegian farmers, and grew up in rural Minnesota.


He earned a B.A from Carleton College in 1880 and a Ph.D. from Yale in 1884. He didn't 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" in 1899.


Veblen was critical of how laissez-faire economics and big business shaped society. He coined the phrase "conspicuous consumption" to describe how earned status by displaying what they could afford to buy. Veblen's "gruff manner and unconventional personal life" led the University 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).

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Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition; UW-Madison American History 102 reference site (; Milwaukee Journal, March 22, 1935.