Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 211

The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions, by Thorstein Veblen, is an economic treatise that advances the idea of conspicuous consumption – the idea that in an industrialized society, the technological means to produce goods exceeds their necessity. He wrote the treatise in 1899. Thus, in the early years of industrialization, Veblen predicted the effects of industrialization, and he predicted the development of a consumer society.

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Theme, as a literary term, is typically considered a characteristic of fiction rather than informational works, such as economic treatises. However, a theme is a universal truth – something people everywhere recognize as true based on their experience – and the ideas Veblen advanced in the late 19th century proved to be accurate predictions – or truths – about the industrial age. The main ideas, or themes, he explores in the book are that a leisure class developed as practices and ideas from feudal society carried into the modern age; that these ideals led to the development of conspicuous consumption, and that the beliefs and lifestyles of the leisure class promote conspicuous consumption. Therefore, the “themes” he advances in the book link the ideas of industrialization, excess, and greed and convey the idea that social change results from the forces that drive the economy and industrial production.

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