Student Question

What are the industry and leisure classes in Veblen's The Theory of the Leisure Class and how do they compare to Marx’s two-class model of stratification?

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Veblen believed the leisure class was made of people who did not need to do industrial work and who had types of occupations that were of higher status. He wrote in The Theory of the Leisure Class

The upper classes are by custom exempt or excluded from industrial occupations, and are reserved for certain employments to which a degree of honor attaches. (2)

While the industry class toils in industrial work (that is, work related to providing for the material needs of people), the leisure class occupies jobs in fields such as government, religion, warfare, learning, and sports in what Veblen called the "barbarian" culture that preceded modern culture. He believed these distinctions between the industry and leisure class continued in modern times. 

Marx, on the other hand, believed in two classes: the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie own the means of production (which are land, labor, and capital), while the proletariat must sell their labor to survive. Veblen's two-class structure is different than that of Marx because Veblen believed that Marx's theory of labor did not account for the role of technology, which was becoming increasingly important in modern society. He thought that Marx's theory was not complicated enough to account for the role of technology and its importance in the economy. In addition, unlike Marx, Veblen did not see the classes as engaging in class warfare. Instead, Veblen thought that the industry class was corrupted by the values of the upper class, which the industry class sought to emulate.

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