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Veblen

Veblen

The Making of an Economist Who Unmade Economics

Charles Camic

ISBN 9780674659728

Publication date: 11/30/2020

A bold new biography of the thinker who demolished accepted economic theories in order to expose how people of economic and social privilege plunder their wealth from society’s productive men and women.

Thorstein Veblen was one of America’s most penetrating analysts of modern capitalist society. But he was not, as is widely assumed, an outsider to the social world he acidly described. Veblen overturns the long-accepted view that Veblen’s ideas, including his insights about conspicuous consumption and the leisure class, derived from his position as a social outsider.

In the hinterlands of America’s Midwest, Veblen’s schooling coincided with the late nineteenth-century revolution in higher education that occurred under the patronage of the titans of the new industrial age. The resulting educational opportunities carried Veblen from local Carleton College to centers of scholarship at Johns Hopkins, Yale, Cornell, and the University of Chicago, where he studied with leading philosophers, historians, and economists. Afterward, he joined the nation’s academic elite as a professional economist, producing his seminal books The Theory of the Leisure Class and The Theory of Business Enterprise. Until late in his career, Veblen was, Charles Camic argues, the consummate academic insider, engaged in debates about wealth distribution raging in the field of economics.

Veblen demonstrates how Veblen’s education and subsequent involvement in those debates gave rise to his original ideas about the social institutions that enable wealthy Americans—a swarm of economically unproductive “parasites”—to amass vast fortunes on the backs of productive men and women. Today, when great wealth inequalities again command national attention, Camic helps us understand the historical roots and continuing reach of Veblen’s searing analysis of this “sclerosis of the American soul.”

Praise

  • Thorstein Veblen may be the most important American thinker most Americans have never heard of…Insightful…Camic’s Veblen is an intellectual flamethrower, torching every school of thought in sight, from the classicism of Adam Smith to the communism of Karl Marx, attempting to clear the ground for a new kind of science…Surrounded as we are by inequality and the flagrant excesses of the super-rich, the power of Veblen’s vision in our own era is obvious.

    —Wall Street Journal

Author

  • Charles Camic is Lorraine H. Morton Professor of Sociology and a member of the Science in Human Culture Program at Northwestern University. An expert on the sociology of knowledge, he is coeditor of Social Knowledge in the Making.

Book Details

  • 504 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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