Law in Contemporary Society
Our discussion about Veblen and conspicuous waste reminded me of this article, which ran before things started to get really bad on Wall Street.

Are these lifestyle changes based on dispatching the things that are of the least utility or, alternatively, the things that are the least conspicuous? Is there a difference? Using law firms as an example, between layoffs, trimming summer programs, and the like, which pattern do they seem to follow?

-- KahlilWilliams - 26 Mar 2009

My immediate reaction to this article was a complete lack of sympathy and utter shock at the way these millionaires are reacting to the economic crisis. Shouldn't they recognize that they can give up certain luxuries and still be among the nation's wealthiest? Do they not recognize that many individuals can't even pay their mortgages and feed their families? On further reflection, I recognize that these millionaires' livelihoods might be based upon their previous patterns of conspicuous waste. As Eben pointed out in class, success in certain business ventures (including management of large non-profit organizations) is often dependent upon assuming a high-class lifestyle.

I'm not sure whether we can analyze the waste that is being discarded in a Veblen sense, as it seems like these individuals are running on fumes and not giving sufficient thought to their spending habits. Moreover, since this article presents a very small sample of individuals, it may not represent the general trend of cutting back for the nation's elite. Nonetheless, it does appear that these individuals are attempting to discard their least conspicuous habits, such as those expensive personal training sessions. From a rational perspective those training sessions (at $165 an hour) are not nearly as important as the jet-setting (at $10,000 an hour), but if these individuals can maintain their place in society by cutting out their personal trainer then it may be worthwhile to them.

-- LaurenRosenberg - 30 Mar 2009

I believe a Veblen-argument can be made to characterize these changes as dropping the most conspicuous things. As Lauren points out, the most important thing for the rich is to stay in their social class. If dropping the private jet allows one to stay afloat and remain part of the elite, this would be done. However, I admittedly do not know if flying coach itself would drop you from the class.

On the other hand, if the rich could still afford to be part of the ultra-elite, one could argue that the least conspicuously wasteful things would be discarded first. This decision itself would be an exhibition of conspicuous waste demonstrating superior pecuniary strength; these people are so rich that although they must cut costs like everyone else, they can cut the most useful, rational expenditures and still be part of the upper class.

-- KeithEdelman - 31 Mar 2009

Jewelry, private jets, haircuts: they aren't cutting anything useful. They are able to do everything they were already doing, just less glamorously. Faced with the necessity of scaling back their lifestyle, these people appear to be trying to preserve the appearance of wealth to the greatest extent possible by cutting the least conspicuously wasteful items that they own--note, that is not the least wasteful items, just the least conspicuously wasteful.

"wealthy clients are cutting luxuries that they think their friends and relatives won’t notice...One recent client explained to Mr. Del Gatto that she was selling $2 million in diamonds she rarely wore, because her friends wouldn’t notice that they were gone.

“She said, ‘If I sold my Bentley or my important art, they would notice,’ ”

-- MichaelDreibelbis - 31 Mar 2009



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r5 - 07 Jan 2010 - 22:47:45 - IanSullivan
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